Colin Linden & Luther Dickinson with The Tennessee Valentines
Buy Here | Listen Below
One of the many sad side effects of the record industry going under is that you don't often hear surprising albums anymore. Making music is so expensive, most new things need to sound like other things that have previously sold well. Amour, a collaboration between producer/guitarist Colin Linden and guitarist/Americana hero Luther Dickinson, is a pleasant surprise, with lots of odd turns and interesting digressions that make for an exhilarating throwback listen.
Linden served as the music director on the TV show Nashville. So surprise one is that in addition to a bunch of Nashville musicians, you also have some guest spots from Nashville actors, who are also musicians. Sam Palladio, who played the mopey Gunnar Scott, does a great turn on "Crazy Arms," a hardcore old-school country song made famous by Ray Price. Linden and Dickinson keep the country, but give the track more grandeur, both with Palladio's lead vocals and with Nashville singer/instrumentalist Rachael Davis' pleading harmony vocals. What's surreal about the track is that it sounds like something you would hear on Nashville and that Palladio, unsurprisingly, sings just like Scott, his character. It’s surreal, but Palladio’s voice is good enough to make it all work.
The second surprise is the song selection, which is delightfully eclectic. The album kicks off with the instrumental version of "Careless Love," a traditional song featuring Linden's electric dobro and Dickinson's guitar. It's raw-yet-pretty, a sweet melody fighting to escape the ragged guitars. "Careless Love" appears again four songs later with vocals (courtesy of Davis). This time the track is quiet and refined. A faint drumbeat, almost seeming to come from the field of the American Revolution, gives the song its foundation, with the saddest, loneliest violin (courtesy of Fats Kaplin) working with Davis to set a positively timelessly mournful scene. The two versions don't even sound like the same song, let alone like they'd be a part of the same album.
But the eclecticism doesn't stop there. Singer/songwriter Ruby Amanfu sings on some tracks that aren't straight-ahead country/Americana. She takes on rhythm-and-blues legend Jesse Stone's "Don't Let Go," giving it a Broadway showtune panache that's tethered to the album's ethos by Linden's slide work and Luther's down-home guitar. Kevin McKendree's piano quietly runs wild in the background, giving the song a ‘50s rock-and-roll vibe. Amanfu similarly takes on "What Am I Living For," made famous by Chuck Willis, another 1950s rhythm and blues icon. Here, the track is more of a soul number than the original with delicate electric guitar and beautiful church organ courtesy of McKendree.
The album's nicest moment is "Dearest Darling," a Bo Diddley tune. Linden takes the lead on the vocals and while he doesn't have the best voice on the album—not by a long-shot—his performance has a naturalness and joyfulness that makes you want to hear more from him.
Reading through this, one might be led to believe this album doesn't make sense. And one would be correct. However, this is a fun listen that I've been playing for a while. The performances are all stellar, with the backing band of The Tennessee Valentines doing a particularly exceptional job of making sure each and every song sounds perfect. Linden's production efforts also factor into the perfection.
If Linden and Dickinson decide to follow-up the album, I hope they'll consider letting Linden sing more, though. While there's something fun and raucous about the rotating band of singers, including some best known for their TV work, Linden's vocal performances are compelling. One of the arcs of Nashville was the role of musical director/legendary sideman Deacon Claybourne, who gradually re-establishes himself as a solo artist over the course of the series. It would be nice to see life imitate art (or "art," for the more Nashville-skeptical), and see Linden, the perennial sideman, step to the front for more than just a couple of songs with Dickinson.
Notable Tracks: "Crazy Arms" | “Dearest Darling” | "Don’t Let Go"