As an explorer, Linden Thoburn searches every corner of her soul to find life’s true meaning.
The Brighton country-folk singer-songwriter deeply mines the head and the heart through a majestic journey of self-discovery on her latest album, Scarecrow, out Friday. Thoburn’s Americana odyssey weaves through sunbaked rows, bitter winds, mountain tops, shadow-hearted plains and the Goodnight-Loving Trail alongside 10 heartfelt tracks of courage, growth and gratitude.
“It’s an album about personal journeys – reflective and physical. For me, all the album’s songs came from deep internal explorations, and they represent the struggles to find meaning and to resolve my confusion and find ground in the rapidly-changing U.S.,” she said. “I hope to move people to feel or think. I would love it if people saw their own questions reflected in mine. The music I love the most makes me feel mirrored and less alone in the world.”
Each Scarecrow track encapsulates a struggle, a passage, an emotional hurdle, a dilemma and a celebration as birds, scarecrows, coyotes and heroes seek new beginnings. The breathtaking opener, “Carolina Wren,” creates a timeless country sound while embarking on a life-changing path.
Bright acoustic and slide guitars fuse with hypnotic piano to accompany Thoburn as she beautifully sings, “I hope you find you and your voice, your song again/Maybe find a friend/And when you arrive in a place where you belong/I hope you sing out like a Carolina Wren.”
Hearing the Calls of the ‘Carolina Wren’ and the ‘Whippoorwill’
The high-pitched calls of the “Carolina Wren” instantly resonate with the “Scarecrow’s” deep desire to “follow the sun or the Canada geese” on the liberating title track. Wailing slide guitar, deep harmonica and vibrant mandolin echo in the distance as the “Scarecrow” imagines heading east while Thoburn shares her planned escape, “She’s holding on/One of these days, she’s got the notion/To get outta here, go see the ocean.”
“I am inspired by everything. I love all kinds of music, but I particularly like a compelling and harmonious melody. As for my own process, I always start with melody, and the melody generally brings a feeling to me,” Thoburn said. “I allow the melody and the feeling to begin expressing. Sometimes it’s super quick and easy, and then other times it comes out like a slow and painful birth.”
Thoburn also seeks abundant inspiration on her latest shiny single, “Vincent’s Yellow House,” an ode to Vincent Van Gogh’s legendary 19th century oil painting of a French home. The welcoming track features a bright instrumental chorus of acoustic guitar and banjo that beautifully meld halfway through it.
In fact, Thoburn’s hospitable vocals invite fresh sights, scents and sounds into listeners’ lives, “Throw the windows wide open/Invite every beautiful thing inside/There is nothing you’ve gotta leave out/Give wing to imagining/Make a life worth remembering/In Vincent’s yellow house.”
Outside of “Vincent’s Yellow House,” Thoburn focuses on the tough road ahead during a “Life Out of Control.” This sorrowful tale chronicles a woman searching for a sense of purpose and struggling to move past a deep sense of loneliness.
Mournful violin intertwines with vibrant acoustic guitar and sparse slide guitar as Thoburn sadly sings, “She’s a girl who knew the world was more than she’d been taught/She’s been working so hard trying to earn what can’t be bought/She’s got this awful feeling that there’s something she forgot.”
“It’s about a journey. My parents died when I was in my early 20s, but what that taught me was life can feel out of control sometimes,” she said. “That’s the cool thing about music and writing from a deep place.”
Thoburn explores another deep, heartfelt journey on “Whippoorwill” as enchanting violin, acoustic guitar and banjo instrumentally depict the bird’s challenges as Thoburn laments, “All around him geese are calling/Leaves are drifting, acorns are falling/How he wishes time would stand still/He must take to wing soon, the lone whippoorwill.” He serves as one of several soaring friendships Thoburn shares with swallows, blackbirds, eagles and albatrosses on Scarecrow.
Exploring Michigan Musical Partnerships
She also developed close friendships while working with producer Mike Gentry and engineer David Roof at Rooftop Recording on Scarecrow last year. The trio spent six months laying down the album’s 10 tracks and collaborating with a stellar cast of Michigan musicians, including Jim Bizer (acoustic guitar), Sara Gibson (cello), Erin Zindle (violin), Drew Howard (banjo, resonator, pedal steel), Aaron Markovitz (mandolin, octave mandolin) and Peter “Madcat” Ruth (acoustic and electric bass, piano).
“I loved the songs, and I really liked her whole vibe and her whole aesthetic. We’re putting this out in a way that every single one of those ingredients is full-flavored and shows up in the mix. There’s a real opportunity to make an extraordinarily fine piece of artwork with this record,” said Gentry, who’s also a folk-rock singer-songwriter from Dexter.
In return, Thoburn relished the opportunity to work with Gentry, Roof and Scarecrow’s other multi-talented collaborators. “Mike and Dave were immediately so encouraging and warm that my fear melted away. They both brought a sense of openness and sensitivity to the songs, and each have a really refined sense of music, and a way of working that always seems to be in service of the song,” she said. “I am in artistic awe of these two artistic men, and I hope that if I write seven more songs that we can work together on the next one, too.”
For Thoburn, the world’s natural surroundings serve as the best muses for art and music. As a longtime singer-songwriter, Thoburn credits nature with inspiring her first foray into uncharted sonic territory. At age 23, she wrote her first song while serving in the Peace Corps and became inspired after walking in the forest near a small mountain village in Morocco.
“It’s a song that came transmitted in whole from the either, like a great mystery,” she said. “My songwriting has always reflected the questions that I am asking of life. They have grown up with me, and I hope that I will always have lots of questions.”
Thoburn started searching for answers while growing up in West Texas. She took up guitar at age seven and discovered the influential sounds of Elvis, The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, Loretta Lynn, George Jones and Tammy Wynette. During her early singer-songwriter days, Thoburn performed at the Philadelphia Folk Festival and released her debut country album, Copper Moon, in 1989 while living in Austin, Texas.
“It’s very country and from a different time in my life. I listen to it now, and some of the songs still hold up for me even after all those years,” she said. “I was so lucky to have Roger Allen Polson as producer, and I had some amazing Austin musicians playing on it. I think that I even got luckier this second time around.”
After relocating to Michigan for graduate school, Thoburn met singer-songwriters Rod Johnson and Phil McMillion of The Parsnips at an acoustic jam. Together, they formed a new multi-genre project called The Good Things and perform intimate shows at the Ypsi Alehouse and Ann Arbor’s Crazy Wisdom Bookstore & Team Room. Johnson and McMillion also provide vocal harmonies on Scarecrow as well as Milan Seth and Thoburn’s niece, Suzanne Sherwin.
“We all write, and Phil is an amazing multi-instrumental talent. There is almost nothing that he can’t play. Our writing styles are different, and I think this works for us because it gives every set enough variety to hopefully keep it interesting,” said Thoburn about her bandmates.
In the meantime, Thoburn will host a Scarecrow album release show soon at the Chelsea Depot in downtown Chelsea. Originally scheduled for Friday, the show was postponed after coronavirus cases surged in Michigan and temporarily shut down live events locally and nationally.
“I really want Sara, Drew and Dave playing at the show, and I can build a band just out of the core group,” Thoburn said. “I just want to have some food and wine and a party, just a celebration.”