August 2003

Colin Linden - Big Mouth
Accord Music Group C8001
Released: 2003

by David J. Cantor

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

One fine thing about Colin Linden’s new CD Big Mouth: It is not a collection of 15 tracks, with the best two or three at the beginning. The quality is consistent throughout -- there are no real clunkers and some of the best tunes are at the middle and end. If you are a listener who lets a disc fade into the background after a track or two, you’ll want to start this one in the middle now and then.

Track 12, "Spirit of the Golden Tone," highlights what is special about the entire disc and is a good example of Linden’s strengths as a songwriter and performer. The song expresses a love of music in a playful way, although a serious thread runs through it. It carries you on a gentle but gripping rhythm, with effective interplay between Linden’s dobro or slide guitar and Brian Owings’ drums. A nice touch is the surprise minor chord that kicks in at the tail end of each otherwise-all-major four-line verse.

On the surface, it’s just about enjoying good tunes in the car:

I thought it was funny in the middle of the day
To hear someone sing in such a mournful way
Ghost broadcaster haunt my dial
Come back again for a little while.

As each verse ends, Linden sings, "Don’t you leave me here / Leave me all alone / Light me up with the spirit of the golden tone." The final verse in the song refers to a late, great member of The Band -- "Hey Rick Danko wherever you are / I can hear your voice from beyond the stars" -- and you realize that the "golden tone" eternity evokes the sense of immortality and connection to the past one can experience through music.

Linden’s solid blues guitar and versatility with blues song structures run through this album. Linden’s musical hero has always been the great blues man Howlin’ Wolf, but the collection is also reminiscent of Tom Rush, another white musician with blues roots whose work, like Linden’s, ranges far from that genre, mainly in the folk direction. The topics of the songs range fairly widely, too. Often, however, the lyrics are vague and seem hastily written. They only hint at their topics and rely on the excellent singing and musicianship to give them their meaning and conviction.

If, in listening to Big Mouth, you think you may hear some other big voices, you’re right: Bruce Cockburn, Lee Roy Parnell, Lucinda Williams, and Keb’ Mo’ contribute to a number of tracks. Linden himself packs quite a resume. In addition to collaborating with with Cockburn, The Band, and Leon Redbone, among others, he has produced more than 30 CDs. His impressive collection of accolades includes a JUNO award, the Music Award from the Toronto Arts Awards, and the title of Maple Blues Producer of the Year. His talents as a musician have led to his appearance on more than 150 discs and he has released six previous critically acclaimed titles.

Linden’s broad experience as a musician, collaborator, and producer contribute to the enjoyment of his new disc. He should perhaps pay closer attention to the lyrics on his future releases, but after listening to Big Mouth for a while, you’ll put that weakness aside and find his abilities compelling enough to check out his previous efforts.