From the hills of old Virginia to Club Paradiso in Calgary
A chat with Colin Linden
has always been an equal source of inspiration and insight, and I was on the receiving end of much of both when I caught up to him earlier this week.
Linden was driving solo from New York City back to Nashville via a route he’d never taken before. The highway he had chosen was taking him through a few places of historical significance in the world of roots music.
He was in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountain country and my imagination couldn’t help but hear the echo of old time mountain and country music wafting through the valleys and hollers where artists like Jim and Jesse McReynolds, the Stanley Brothers and Patsy Cline first attached their voices to song, as Colin described part of his traveling route.
“I think I’ll make it down to Bristol and stop there for the night,” said Linden, mentioning the town where the recordings regarded as “the big bang sessions of country music”, were cut in 1927 by Ralph Peer. The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers were documented for the first by the Victor Talking Machine in Bristol, on that day almost a century ago. Other artists assembled for the historic musical gathering included Blind Alfred Reed, Charles and Paul Johnson, the Blue Mountain Moonshiners and Ernest Phipps and His Holiness Quartet.
Bristol Tennessee, on a hot summers night. It sounded like the perfect spot for Colin Linden, a musical history hound, to make a pit stop.
Linden was just returning from a night in NYC where he and his brothers in Blackie and the Rodeo Kings had debuted their brand new Kings and Queens recording for a select audience.
A concept album of sorts, Kings and Queens finds Linden, Stephen Fearing and Tom Wilson in the company of an amazing cast of female artists. The list is long and includes Rosanne Cash, Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, Mavis Staples and Pam Tillis.
“Amy Helm from Ollabelle was able to join us for the evening and she covered a lot of the material found on the album. She and Tom Wilson recorded I’m Still Lovin’ You for Kings and Queens and their rendition of it at the New York City show was one of the nights highlights,” added the musician and producer who continues to bounce from solo sessions to session player to producer to live performer with ease and an infectious passion for his work.
Taking Linden’s love for all things music makes for a nice segue into why I had tracked him in the first place. That was to get his take and impressions on young Joe Nolan
, the singer-songwriter who is just releasing his sophomore recording Goodbye Cinderella this week.
Linden doesn’t need to search for words when it comes to talking about Nolan’s talents and artistic sensibilities, as he sounds like a proud big brother.
One would think that Linden might also see a bit of himself in the young singer-songwriter who is only 20 years old. Remember that Linden was out on the road criss-crossing this country when he was only 17 years old and by the time he reached 19 he was recording with Sam Chatmon one of the original Mississippi Sheiks.
“Joe has such a deep love for the music and he wants to know everything about it. So being known as a bit of a blabber, I’m happy to tell him stories about all the old blues and folk-roots guys,” says Linden, who understands what is like to be mentored by musicians with pure pedigrees.
What initially drew Linden to Nolan was that he sensed the young singer-songwriter “was his own person, with his own unique style.”
In short order Linden painted a finely etched picture of how the Good Cinderella sessions unfolded.
“Most of the time, it was great. Joe came in with lots of ideas and aired all of them and I realized he needed to find out stuff, some of that being what might not work. He was discovering the process.”
Calling Nolan’s studio performances “spectacular”, Linden still stands amazed at how the young artist was “one hundred percent fearless when the red light came on.”
For Nolan, who was holding his Edmonton release show at The Haven on Friday June 17 with a hot band that included guitarist Russ Broom and the bass playing Mike Lent, the recording experience was one he will likely never forget.
“It was wild and I didn’t know what to expect. Plus, it was my first time out of the country,” says Nolan.
“I had about 40 new songs before we went into the studio and Colin and I agreed on about 8 that would be recorded, and worked the rest out from there. The first song to get recorded was Don’t Take My Picture which is an easy one to sing.”
Nolan feels the end result is a balanced effort as there is “a love song, a blues song, and a protest song” in the mix. His current favorite on Good Cinderella, is Hold Me Up, which he describes as the “kinda poppy song”,
Working with musicians like onetime Johnny Cash bassist Dave Roe was a thrill for Nolan and having the legendary Spooner Oldham add keyboard tracks to a few tunes was icing on the cake. Oldham just happens to be one of the great songwriters and most respected musicians of our time having penned songs like Cry Like A Baby and injected his organ and/or piano playing into tunes like Otis Redding’s When A Man Loves A Woman, Wilson Pickett’s Mustang Sally and numerous sessions for Bob Dylan (Slow Train Coming) and Neil Young (Harvest Moon).
These days Calgary audiences have the chance to catch Nolan every Sunday as his manager Neil MacGonigill set up a residency gig for his client at Club Paradiso in the wonderful Inglewood neighborhood.
Nolan invites a guest to each Sunday night session and after a month of Sundays, Nolan experienced his first sold out show in the venue on Sunday June 12 as Karla Anderson shared the stage.
“We had one person the first week, four the second, eight the third Sunday,” chuckled Nolan who starts the first of the weekly two set shows at 7. Club Paradiso is located at 1413-9 Ave.
Not too long ago Linden spontaneously invited Nolan to tag along with him on some road dates in B.C. and Alberta.
“Joe knocked everyone out, when he’d sit in for a few tunes. He comes across as smart and perceptive, and the older I get the more that means.
“He’s so free with his ideas, and a true artist,” believes Linden.
And as he was cruising the scenic hills of Virginia, one of Canada’s great musical ambassadors offered up one more gem of an insight.
“With everything we have at our disposal with technology these days, never before has it been easier for a musician or artist to be competent. But I believe we are also in a time when never before has it been harder to be great.”