A primer to power and grace

Published January 1, 2001

Colin Linden
Sad & Beautiful World
1975 – 1999


ONE OF this column’s perennial subjects in the past eight years has been the work of Canadian guitarist, vocalist, songwriter and producer Colin Linden. The pre-Christmas release of a “best-of” collection entitled Sad & Beautiful World 1975 – 1999 serves as a primer to the power and grace of his work.

Delightfully, one of the threads that has run throughout Linden’s work in the past 15 years is a documentation of his pilgrimage and spiritual search. Linden classifies himself as one “born with a restless mind,” in Go Wherever You Want To. As part of that restlessness, he consistently makes reference to God and to the spiritual nature of one’s life while avoiding the pitfalls of strident fundamentalism on the one hand and inanimate divine name-tossing on the other.

Many fellow seekers will find common ground with the clear autobiography of this 17-song collection.

He is a tongue-in-cheek sinner in No Rest For The Wicked, lamenting, “There’s no rest for the wicked, and I need my sleep.” He also recognizes that God’s gift of grace is not a free pass from difficulties in life as he sings in Homesick In My Own Backyard, “When you stumble from your state of grace the pavement’s cold and hard, and I’m homesick in my own backyard.”

Linden’s lyrics have the twofold blessing of an awareness of self and an awareness of God.

Take, for instance, the swampy minor chord rocker Love Everyone from his 1998 gem Raised By Wolves, which begins the collection. It is laden with imagery of life as a gift from God before the chorus bottom-lines it for the listener with the words, “You’ve gotta love everyone, so you can even love yourself.”

That gift is given a different focus in an examination of the third person in the Trinity. Linden’s first truly outstanding album was 1988’s When The Spirit Comes. The title track from that disc sees Linden address the power given by God’s spirit in vivid terms: “The electrons will charge through your veins.” Then he declares: “Hear ye I wait and I’m ready when the spirit comes.”

There is awareness of mortality and a heavenly home (When The Carnival Ends), coupled with the beauty and tragedy intermingling in the soaring anthem Sad & Beautiful World.

The mix becomes more powerful when one combines these passionate and soulful words with Linden’s music, playing, and singing. He is a tuneful and inventive guitarist with a delightful vocal quaver, and his styles of roots rock, pop, gospel, and soul are all expertly executed.

While long-time fans will quibble over the absence of some tracks, be they Two Halves Of A Whole (1988), The Leap O’ Faith (1993), Devil Music (1995), or Ride With Me (1998), the 17 songs that made it are an effective cross-section of the huge talents of a real treasure.

Wilfred Langmaid is Anglican chaplain of the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, and music critic for the Fredericton Gleaner.


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