Simplicity is the key to Eric Lindell’s music.
The word surfaced several times during a phone call with the affable singer-songwriter, guitarist and harmonica ace, who performs with his four-piece band at Harlow’s on Tuesday night.
It also echoes throughout his genre-blurring “Indian Summer” album that was released in April.
Lindell, in his mid-40s and snugly associated with the New Orleans music scene, is all about simplicity and originality. He distills blues, country, rock, R&B, old-school soul and beyond into something that’s both familiar and refreshingly new. “Indian Summer” includes seven such tunes that resonate with retro-artistry and emotion.
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The thematic thread in “Summer” is love in many forms: lost, long distance, in limbo and lingering. The sound is multitextured: bluesy, western swing, rockin’, gospel and funky. And Lindell’s vocals are desperate, seductive, urgent, confident and persuasive.
When he sings “I want to lay down, roll over and die,” in “Come Back,” he is achingly vulnerable. And you believe him.
The album, and a live “Live in Space” CD released a couple months later, feature Texas electric guitar slinger Anson Funderburgh, who, with the late Sam Meyers and the Rockets, used to blow the doors off The Palms back when it was housed in an old barn in Davis.
“He’s my hero,” said Lindell of Funderburgh, “a sweetheart and one of my best buds. It’s the simplicity. I love that about him. He says so much with so little. Every night we play, and I’m not trying to toot our own horn, but the sound guy is like ‘That was so easy to mix.’ There is nothing to it. I don’t do any pedals. I plug straight in. The bass is real simple. My drummer just uses a snare, a kick (bass drum), and a floor tom. He’s just so dynamic and can do so much.”
Funderburgh will not share the stage at Harlow’s. He’s on tour with Sacramento guitarist Charlie Baty (formerly of Little Charlie and the Nightcats) and harp master Mark Hummel. Lindell’s band will include Mike Burkhardt on B3 organ and piano, Will McMains on drums and Chris Arenas on bass.
As shown by his records, Lindell’s musical influences span both time and space.
“I listen to everything,” said Lindell, whose nonchalance is sprinkled with infectious laughs. “Gil-Scott Heron to Ali Akbar Khan to Delbert McClinton, Hank Williams, all kind of stuff. It’s really kind of unconscious, organic – just playing and loving so many different kinds of music. Not really learning one particular thing. I’m pretty elementary as far as guitar. I’m a ‘two chords and a cloud of dust’ kind of guitar player. But it is the simplicity of blues and country music and R&B, how it all mixes in. Rock ’n’ roll. Rock-steady reggae. I like it all.”
Lindell’s roots are embedded in Sonoma County. He embraced Fishbone as a teen skate-and-surf rat, joined a 10-piece dance band after a steady appetite of Tower of Power and Sly Stone, and later worked as a baker and played blues and R&B in bars.
“At that time I really played more harp,” said Lindell. “I was such a Junior Wells nut. I love that early Wells and Buddy Guy stuff.”
Lindell produced his debut album “Bring It Back” in 1996. Two years later, he headed New York. In 1999, he moved with his then-wife to New Orleans to be near his in-laws.
It took a couple of years for Lindell to get his footing, but he began performing with drummers Stanton Moore of Galactic and Harold Brown, formerly of War, and became a regular at the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
In 2003, he co-founded the super group Dragon Smoke with Moore, Galactic bassist Robert Mercurio and vocalist-keyboardist Ivan Neville. In 2006, Alligator Records compiled cuts from his independent albums, and Lindell moved onto the national radar.
William Shatner danced in drag to Lindell’s “Give It Time” on the TV show “Boston Legal” and Lindell performed “I Don’t Mind” on the finale of HBO’s “Treme.”
Lindell opened for Derek Trucks many years ago at Harlow’s. Since then, Lindell said he’s “got tattoos all over the place,” the most prominent being his daughter’s name, Mercy, inked across his throat.
He now lives in Folsom, La., population 750. It’s about an hour from New Orleans. He lives on 40 acres with his current wife, three children and a bunch of dogs. But he still surfs (his board slides nicely underneath his tour bus).
What Lindell wants his audiences to take away from his shows is yet another study in simplicity: “A good time, and maybe a couple CDs.”