On Amour, Colin Linden (of Blackie & The Rodeo Kings) and Luther Dickinson (from North Mississippi Allstars) offer a collaborative paean to romantic love that is not entirely sentimental. Even on such an otherwise earnest effort, there is an inherent danger that might come across as campy, but the two guitarists/vocalists demonstrate an abiding loyalty to their blues and country roots that grounds this music. In addition, the pair exhibit a musicianly pragmatism that precludes kitsch by assembling a group of sympathetic, tasteful musicians dubbed, appropriately enough for this occasion, "The Tennessee Valentines." Like the leaders' playing, the accompaniment is all the more attractive for its economy.
The group's moniker receives prominent billing on the album's front cover, indicating the significance of these musicians' unified presence. As evidenced by the simpatico feel of the opening instrumental, the musicians are as well-integrated in their playing as in their name, a solidarity proceeding directly from Linden and Dickinson, rightfully pictured together deep in concentration on their fretboards inside the colorful digipak. The two interact like alter egos throughout the record, especially evident when they both play electric guitar on "What Am I Living For."
Personal taste might engender longing for more wordless combinations of the earthy and the melancholy like "Careless Love" (also appearing in a vocal version). Such thoughts quickly dissipate with the jaunty, gospel-inflected "Don't Let Go," where Rachel Davis and Ruby Amanfu's voices dance with the guitars as fluidly as Kevin McKendree's piano. It is quite clear how much joy the participants share here (and not just in the uproarious laughter at track's end). The same is true on the earthy, sensual pas de deux Billy Swan and Davis enact on "Lover Please": the band romps in time with the duo and Fats Kaplin's accordion jousts with the rhythm section of bassist Dominic Davis and drummer Bryan Owings.
Such a wholly infectious, high-spirited atmosphere permeates even the blues-oriented likes of Jimmy Reed's "Honest I Do." The gritty undercurrent and arch tone within Bo Diddley and Elias McDaniel's song "Dearest Darling" is an antidote to the outright nostalgia of Kris Kristofferson's "For The Good Times." Neither tune would sound so trenchant if not set off in such great relief from each other. Infused with Amanfu's sultry phrasing, each tune actually becomes a foil for the other, with arch attitude intoned by producer Linden. Greg Calbi's mastering outlines a stereo sound as expansive as the choice of material and the range of expression in the performances.
Linden and Dickinson's own instrumental styles present an equally vivid contrast. On "Crazy Arms," Dickinson's distorted electric guitar tones complement the polish of Linden's smooth textures, qualities echoed in Sam Palladio's vocals. Both work on the soundtrack for the television series Nashville, as does singer Jonathan Jackson, whose vocal on "I Forgot To Remember To Forget" radiates a ghostly air. The atmosphere of that cut makes an ideal closing to a project where a relaxed spontaneity belies its meticulous conception and execution.
Careless Love (Instrumental); Don’t Let Go; Honest I Do; Careless Love; Crazy Arms; For The Good Times; Lover Please; What Am I Living For; Dearest Darling; I Forget To Remember.
Colin Linden: guitars; Luther Dickinsons: guitars; Fats Kaplin: violin, accordion; Kevin McKendree: keyboards; Billy Swan: vocals; Sam Palladio: vocals; Jonathan Jackson: vocals; Rachael Davis: vocals; Ruby Amanfu: vocals; Dominic Davis: bass; Bryan Owings: drums.
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