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Music Review: Colin Linden – From The Water

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Colin Linden’s not going to be able to maintain his relatively-under-the-radar profile much longer. Not with product as consistently excellent as From The Water.

It’s not that Linden’s an unknown. He’s a prolific songwriter whose compositions have graced projects by the likes of The Band, Keb’ Mo’, and The Blind Boys Of Alabama. He’s produced seventy discs, appeared on over three hundred himself, worked in films, and had his work included on the mega-selling Oh Brother soundtrack a few years back.

But somehow, despite a solid discography of his own, he’s remained something of an insider’s insider, a musician’s musician, and producer extraordinaire who invariably makes everyone else sound better. The wonderful From The Water boasts his strongest and most cohesive collection of songs yet though, and his vocals, always a bit of a weak point, here sound strong, confident and perfectly suited to the contents.

Linden committed himself to playing acoustic country blues since meeting the great Howlin’ Wolf at age eleven. His musical horizons have since expanded to encompass a wide spectrum of roots-based music. And much like fellow producer T-Bone Burnett, he excels at crafting a layered, moody sound that gives his projects a distinct and edgy sound.

The spirit of Linden’s close friend, Richard Bell, who played keyboards for both The Band and Janis Joplin and who passed away in 2007, permeates the disc – there’s a pervasive air of reflective melancholy running through much of the material, though in fitting tribute to a man whom Richard calls “that mighty boy,” there’s lots of barrelhouse bravado to enliven proceedings, too. Included are a tune the two friends wrote together during Bell’s final illness, the romping but wry “Trouble Comes In 3’s,” and a number of songs that find Linden clearly mourning the loss of his friend.

Linden’s recent projects include producing Paul Reddick’s stellar Sugarbird, on which he played and contributed much of the material; Reddick returns the favor here with some excellent, understated harmonica on three tunes reprised from that album, including the slyly rollicking “Devilment,” the almost ethereal “John Lennon In New Orleans,” and “Later Than You Think,” a positively spooky tune that seems to resonate with restless ghosts – Linden’s production on this track is utterly uncanny.

Elsewhere Linden deals with big topics – the passing of time, sorrow and sin and redemption. There’s no fluff to be found, and even the disc’s lone love song, Linden’s first written entirely in French, sounds more like a plea for love’s salvation than a declaration of same. It's haunting and delicate and aching with need. In short, it’s a serious disc, infused with the weight of time and looming darkness, demanding but rewarding careful listening.

Close to a masterpiece, From The Water is a stunning statement from a supremely gifted man who seems to have music flowing through his veins. Very highly recommended!

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