Linden’s resume is impressive, from his solo work to his involvement in Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, from his session and production work for artists like Bruce Cockburn to his regular slot on the television program Nashville. And although he calls Music City home these days Rich in Love doesn’t sound like a slick Nashville record. Instead the album feels more like something from farther on up the road. This record sounds like Woodstock.
Backed by John Dymond on bass and Gary Craig on drums, and calling themselves The Rotting Matadors, Linden has a solid foundation on which build his songs of love, betrayal, and desire. Guests include Reese Wynans on keyboards and Charlie Musselwhite on harp. Amy Helm turns in three fine appearances on harmony vocals, reconnecting Linden with the legacy of the Band. The timbre of the drums, and the overall production values give the album a rural back porch feel, as if it had been recorded in a shed.
The album starts off with “Knob and Tube,” a sly metaphor for love and attraction. Linden and Amy Helm provide the vocal interplay and understated resonance and romantic tension.
Close to you baby
Like smoke is to fire
You’re the humbucker
And I’m the amplifier
Linden’s follow up, “I Need Water” is the emotional polar opposite, a tale of loss. Linden’s protagonist testifies that he has been holding on for years. A plea for mercy, the devastated soul declares that he “need(s) water, to build these tears.”
One of the more interesting songs on the album is “Delia Come for Me.” Essentially a revisiting of the tragic tale of Delia, Linden tells the story of that fateful night from the point of view of the man at the center of the events. In Linden’s take the man in question is innocent, and in love with Delia, and doomed by the town folk eager for revenge. Like the classic “Long Black Veil” the theme of love, loss, and false witness resonates, and is instantly memorable. It also is easy to imagine what this would have sounded like if Rick Danko and Levon Helm were with us today to give us their version.
“Everybody Ought to be Loved” and “And Then You Begin” are warm acoustic ballads that plead for equity in love, relationships and second chances. “Luck of a Fool” is a mid-tempo number celebrating the good fortune of the narrator. As the Linden witnesses to his providential blessings the organ swells and swirls and embellishes the testimony. The arrangement feels like an homage to Garth “Honeyboy” Hudson. Hudson’s nickname, according to Levon Helm, came from the way the keyboard wizard would sweeten those old Band tracks.
“I Made a Promise” finds Linden searching for his place in the heavenly choir. Linden holds to his promise of steadfastness quietly and in faith.
The ghosts have begun to outnumber
The boots still on the ground
I call out to them through the cotton
Do our songs all bleed together
When the curtain finally comes down?
I believe no true voice is forgotten
On Rich in Love the emotions are often understated, a sense of remorse hanging in the air, an awareness of our own mortality this side of the veil palpable in every track. And yet there is a hint of the weight of glory in the human struggles Linden delineates for us. It is a rich feast for the ears. Bring your appetite, there is plenty here feed on. Welcome to the table. www.theflamestillburns.com