Colin Linden, |
Rich in Love
(Stony Plain, 2015)
Dulcie Taylor & Friends,
Wind Over Stone
If your idea of roots music is the acoustic guitar-centered pop of the mid-1970s, Dulcie Taylor's Wind Over Stone is what you're looking for. While I am not a great fan of that style, Taylor, who writes most of her material, performs it with maturity and intelligence, which is to say that the songs of romance, despairing or affirming, are sung from a grown-up perspective. On occasion she strays into folk-rock ("When the Cherokee Roamed") and country ("Prayers"), but this is mostly the sort of music one would expect to hear on adult-contemporary radio. Except a little better and smarter.
On the other hand, the opening cut, "Not Here Not Today," recalls a song one might have heard in the immediate wake of the terrible events of Sept. 11, 2001. It's full of defiance, affirmation and talk of freedom (here rhymed with "meet 'em"). In cold reality, as has been clear for some time, the terrorist maniacs responsible were more interested in humiliating America and killing as many of its citizens as possible than in "taking away our freedoms," in the administration's quickly concocted political slogan. It seems odd to be hearing so transparently dubious a motive alleged nearly a decade and a half after the attack, used to justify a war that practically nobody these days thinks was anything other than a profoundly bad idea.
"When the Cherokee Roamed" is a more interesting song, a meditation on what the landscape of America was like before Europeans arrived and transformed it, at great environmental and human cost, into the heavily industrialized country we live in today. Taylor nicely captures the ambiguous quality of that legacy: the ease of modern life versus the heartbreaking destruction that enabled it. Mostly, however, Taylor eschews big themes to write songs about life and love seemingly inspired by personal experience.
Canadian by birth and upbringing, a longtime presence on the Nashville scene, Colin Linden is a writer for ABC television's Nashville, a prime-time soap opera focused on the lives and careers of fictional Music City stars. The shows I've seen each feature one or two musical numbers, serviceable but hardly classic.
Rich in Love, the latest of Linden's solo albums, gives him a chance to sing in his own voice, literal and figurative. From time to time it draws on Linden's past immersion in blues and folk. The strongest of the dozen cuts, "Delia, Come for Me," takes its inspiration from the murder ballad "Delia," which grew out of a slaying in Savannah, Georgia, on Christmas Eve 1900. (Variants of "Delia" have been recorded, most famously, by Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan.) This being fiction, Linden's version represents the convicted man as innocent, when in reality Cooney Houston's guilt was beyond dispute. As historian Sean Wilentz writes in The Rose & the Briar (2005), "There was never any question about who pulled the trigger, only about why." Linden doesn't address the sad fact that both killer and victim were teenagers.
Sometimes Linden's tenor brings the late Jesse Winchester's to mind, and once in a while a song (each of them an original or co-write) feels like something Winchester could have composed, e.g. "Everybody Ought To Be Loved" (certainly a Winchester-esque title), "No More Cheap Wine" and "Luck of a Fool." Mostly, however, the style is rock and blues, stressing Linden's guitar mastery but not beating listeners' heads with it. The title song evokes the spirit of oldtime country blues.
I continue to wish for the Linden album I could get truly excited about. One respects his professionalism while hearing songs that, if decently crafted, often don't feel terribly original or stick long in one's memory. Surely an artist of his gifts is capable of better, maybe a more daring outing in which he explores roots sounds he can transform into a compelling personal statement. At his most lackluster Linden writes with all the soul of a studio musician.
music review by
12 December 2015
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