HAVING SETTLED into a comfortable niche as a guitarist, songwriter, producer and wide-ranging collaborator, Colin Linden has become an elder statesman of Canadian rock music. He might be better known as a sideman for legends ranging from Bruce Cockburn to The Band, but his solo album career has witnessed a fascinating musical and spiritual pilgrimage.
This pilgrimage continues with Raised By Wolves. His sixth disc, it is a wonderful fusion of south and north, of roots and pop, of personal statements and universal themes, of the sacred and the profane.
Musically, Linden has always had one foot in roots music, and this album sees his considerable blues talents fused with a healthy dose of New Orleans vintage soul and R&B. A dandy horn section and a veteran group of talented sideman (Richard Bell, Gary Craig, John Dymond) join with cameo pals like Cockburn, Colin James and Stephen Fearing. All the while, Linden’s signature guitar chops are front and centre.
Lyrically, however, this album is unique. In the midst of standard love ballads (Anything, Anytime, Anywhere) and soulful frolics (Love’s Like Rain) on the one hand; and laments of love lost done country (Before the Blues) or as an anthem (Ten Years) on the other, Raised By Wolves focuses heavily on mortality.
This is clear from the outset, when the signature mid-tempo Linden lilt blends with the swampy blues of the album opener, Too Late to Holler. Linden begins his album with the words, “I can see the chariot waiting for me” and ends each chorus with the words, “Let my soul commence to roll on the day that I die.” He Wasn’t Fooling is that song’s thematic cousin.
Similarly, Holy Fire is a plea for deliverance. As Linden moves from electric axe to National steel as part of a densely rhythmic, swampy sound, he admits, “I’m running from the clock,” regrets, “So many nightmares were just dreams gone bad,” and pleads, “Let me out of my cage.”
A clear piece of biography will get lots of attention. George Chuvalo is a poignant reflection on boxing in general and Chuvalo in particular, or on life in general and a soul in particular. It moves into a power anthem that is textbook for execution and integrity in a world full of meaningless rock anthems.
However, the autobiography which can be universal to any thinking pilgrim is even more outstanding. The swampy minor chord rocker, Love Every One, is filled 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.”
Were there any question that the healing of the inner child is a big part of Linden’s ethic, the love song for two recovering soulmates, Ride With Me, removes any doubt. One part confession and three parts rejoicing, this countryish rocker sees the man who “burnt up both angels’ wings with the first pain that I hid” and “went from being a young man to an old man overnight,” now admitting “Two good feet right on the ground are worth more than six feet in – and we don’t know where this life ends and the next one will begin.”
Knowing who one is as a child of God and savouring life as a gift from God: it is a pretty good recipe.
Rev. Wilfred Langmaid is Anglican chaplain of the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, and music critic for the Fredericton Gleaner.