Cory Linden wears his radio-friendly influences on his sleeve, but the Florida-born, Ohio-raised singer-songwriter isn’t afraid to cuff them around a little in the service of a song. Based on a True Story is at his best when he mixes it up like that.
“Hold On (To Whatcha Got)” sets an approachable tenor for the project, as Linden combines the peaceful, easy feeling of early Eagles with the pop-hit sensibilities of Train. Appearing with a slick group of L.A. studio musicians, he expertly recalls a time when AM radio was filled with such polished, imminently listenable confections – but without sounding like he’s trying to copy any specific member of the polyester era’s AT40 fraternity. “Rome” follows, settling into a fun-loving groove that recalls Loggins and Messina, but with an even brighter disposition – if that’s possible. The addition of a garrulous trumpet, played with the reckless abandon of a Dixieland hipster, only adds to the track’s party atmosphere. “If You’d Dance With Me” adds a layered polyrhythm and falsetto vocal that recall the loose, fun-loving music of Jose Feliciano.
“Love You To The Moon,” meanwhile, conveys its eventual focus with the sound of a child laughing before the song gets underway. Linden then offers a sweetly conveyed lyric about a parent’s love that wouldn’t have been out of place on a late-1970s era album by Chicago – minus the horns. “Don’t Forget to Say Goodbye” shambles along with a gruff honesty, using a complex and propulsive cadence to sort through the hard answers that follow a relationship’s end.
Throughout, Linden performs with the generosity of spirit and fizzy sense of adventure that comes from loving music forever, and often times well away from the spotlight. He played in a few bands after college, but typically was featured on bass – and rarely sang. It served, clearly, as a springboard for both his imagination and for his appreciation of the form. “Will U Still Be Loving Me,” which again owes no small debt to the frisky wordplay of Train, though the addition of a serrated guitar gives the song a harder edge. “It’s A New Day,” with its boisterous saxophone, signals a return to the sun-soaked optimism of before. A delicately picked signature shakes up the principal singer-songwriter structure of “Been Here and Gone,” which features a smart turn on the idea of love’s destiny.
Not that everything works here.
Though it’s probably an unqualified hoot to hear as a singalong at one of Linden’s live shows, “The Football Song” is perhaps the album’s most overtly country-focused track — and that narrow parameter unfortunately also makes it the least interesting on record. That said, it wouldn’t sound out of place in a rotation with modern-day stars like Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney — what with its friendly howl of a vocal, pleasantly sawing fiddle, and down-home narrative about being continuously interrupted by the phone during a Sunday afternoon football game.
To my ear, however, Linden sounds the most like himself when he’s not trying too hard for radio acceptance, or to fit into any certain peg. Linden does a better job of mixing and matching his influences elsewhere, and that gives Based on a True Story its steady propulsion. For instance, the finale “Hold It Together,” with its billowing strings, quaveringly damaged lyric and soaring bridge, sounds at once like every great heartbreak song – and like nothing that’s come before it. As he continues to mature as a recording artist, songs like that are at the heart of what will propel Linden to wider notice.