Let’s cut to the chase here and say that Amour is an album any right minded fan of American roots music should buy. It’s up there with Ry Cooder in the reclamation stakes, old chestnuts revived and, not so much tidied up, but given a fresh wind in their sails and expertly performed. Amour is the brainchild of the renowned Canadian guitarist Colin Linden of Blackie & The Rodeo Kings and Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars (and son of the infamous Jim). Together they have chosen a ragbag of vintage love songs plucked from blues, country, soul and rock’n’roll and recorded them with an ace band – Fats Kaplin, Bryan Owings, Dominic Davis and Kevin McKendree – who they have dubbed The Tennessee Valentines. To cap it they also enrolled several singers (Ruby Amanfu, Sam Palladio, Jonathan Jackson, Rachel Davis and Billy Swan) to sing the songs. Linden and Dickinson play the guitars and what a swell job they do. Dickinson describes their work ethic thus. “Colin and I are fellow guitar slinging, peace loving, freedom fighting romantics who jump at any and every opportunity to play guitars together… we both plugged into a shared guitar amp and though you can hear the different guitars popping thru here and there, it’s hard to tell who is playing what.”
It’s that skin of the teeth and, shucks-let’s do the show right here, kind of attitude which permeates the album. There’s a warm and inviting and, let’s say it, old fashioned feel to it; loose limbed with echoes of Sun studios and Memphis wax woven throughout. It’s raw in parts but elsewhere they explore the sonic possibilities of their guitars as on the closing I Forgot To Remember To Forget where Linden and Dickinson are listed as playing “outer space!” The opening number, an instrumental version of Careless Love, is another opportunity for the pair to show off as Linden’s electric Dobro and Dickinson’s electric guitar slide and burn, recalling the spookiness of Blind Willie Johnson’s Dark Was The Night before the familiar melody eventually surfaces. It’s an excellent start (and one wouldn’t mind hearing a whole album in a similar vein guys, if you are reading this) but it’s only the launch pad for the garden of delights which follow.
Despite the roster of singers it’s Linden who takes the lead vocal on the gospel tinged Don’t Let Go with Rachel Davis and Ruby Amanfu backing him up. With slinky and fatback guitars squirreling away and throwing in blues licks towards the end it’s reminiscent of John Hiatt’s excellent Bring The Family. Jimmy Reed’s Honest I Do is next out the trap with Davis singing as the band lay down that familiar lazy Reed blues walk. Once more, much of the pleasure to be had is in the guitar interplay as the band inject some vigour into a song which can easily be mishandled. Davis is again the featured singer as the band tone it down for a sweet Dobro inflected and vocal revisit of Careless Love, the song as sweet as honeysuckle, and they keep it toned down for the superb seven minute Muscle Shoals styled version of Kris Kristofferson’s For The Good Times which has Ruby Amanfu on vocals. Amanfu comes back for another deep slice of southern soul on the excellent version of What Am I Living For which features some of that guitar popping Dickinson mentioned earlier as the two players don electric guitars and play a musical version of tic tac toe with each other.
Linden is the musical director for the TV show Nashville and he’s roped in some the stars to sing for him here. Sam Palladio sings the Ray Price classic Crazy Arms which is given a wonderfully woozy honky tonk ambience while Jonathan Jackson is the disembodied voice on the ambient I Forgot To Remember To Forget mentioned earlier. The star vocal performance however is from Billy Swan who sings the hit song he wrote way back in 1962 for Clyde McPhatter, Lover Please, and which is here performed as a zydeco number with Fats Kaplin on accordion. Meanwhile Linden and Dickinson get their own chance to shine on Bo Diddley’s Dearest Darling, the rawest song on the album. Linden sings the song as the pair scrub and flail, their guitars sounding primitive as hell.
Amour might not surprise but will definitely delight as these two connoisseurs turn in one of the most enjoyable albums of the year.
Buy Amour here