South at Eight-North at Nine

Colin Linden

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South at Eight-North at Nine Review

by Hal Horowitz

Canadian roots/blues artist and producer Linden hasn't made a bad or even lackluster album under his own name or with his occasional Blackie & the Rodeo Kings cohorts. This 1994 Juno award winner is an unqualified success as well as somewhat of a blueprint for his approach. His combination of subtle rock, blues, gospel, and folk played with acoustic and electric instruments was already perfected even on this early effort and his songwriting reflects that. The originals that dominate the set are fully realized slices of strummy blues, sung in an affable style by Linden who crafts terrific hooks that are never obvious or forced. A few obscure covers (from Sonny Terry, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Willie Dixon) spice the proceedings, occasionally pushing the mood into a deeper blues groove and gospel direction. Linden's vibrant version of the standard "Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning" adds female backing vocals to highlight the churchy feel, but it's his stunning acoustic guitar work that drives the performance. Some of Linden's lyrics flirt with the obtuse as on the opening to the folksy "Still Yesterday" where he is seated between two "cigar smoking infants, waiting on the runway." Fellow Canadians and members of the Band (Rick Danko and Garth Hudson along with American Levon Helm) are featured on a sticker adorning the disc but their contributions are minimal. Bruce Cockburn is more of a presence but this is all Linden's show. His guitar work, whether plugged in or not, is superb throughout and his dusky vocals, similar to those of Danko and to a lesser extent T Bone Burnett, are affecting yet understated. Comparisons to the Band are understandable, but Linden has crafted his own style for a set that remains an undiscovered gem. It's a real find.

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