The past few years in the music business have been a rough road for Langhorne Slim. After releasing When the Sun’s Gone Down to critical praise in 2005, Slim, a.k.a. Pennsylvania native Sean Scolnick, was signed by V2 Records to a multi-album deal. Unfortunately, the record company folded soon after, and Langhorne Slim was labelless. Luckily, Brooklyn-based Kemado Records stepped in to snap up the eccentric folkie and his backing band, the War Eagles.
Despite his struggles with the industry side of things, Langhorne Slim has steadily been building a devoted fan base, touring with indie/Americana bands like the Avett Brothers and Murder by Death, while recently appearing at SXSW and on The Late Show with David Letterman.
The album starts off strong with “Spinning Compass”, even if the intro to the song sounds almost exactly like the intro to the Waybacks’ “The River” from their most recent album. Oh well, they’re both decent songs, and entirely different in all other respects; looks like we’ll just have to chalk this one up to wacky coincidence. Following this is the album’s first single, “Rebel Side of Heaven”. Tubas and trombones in the background make this track stand out from the others on the record, even if the lyrics are rather generic: “We ain’t going to hell / We’re going to the rebel side of heaven”. Come on now, this is lyrical ground covered earlier and better by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils with “If You Wanna Get to Heaven”.
Langhorne Slim drags in the middle, thanks to awkward love song “Colette”, boring ballad “Diamonds and Gold”, and the just plain boring “Sometimes”. The album picks up again for the last four songs: “The Honeymoon” stands out as one of the best songs of 2008 to date, while Scolnick’s vocal inflections and simple rhyme scheme on “Oh Honey” are reminiscent of Woody Guthrie, but the damage has been done and the mood has been killed. The album ends on a high note with “Hummingbird”, proving that Langhorne can write a strong ballad and that “Colette” is a horrible fluke.
However, the overproduction of the record is a constant detriment: a large part of Langhorne’s charm is in the rawness of his sound and his unrestrained vocals, but these songs lack the wild-eyed, howling passion of his earlier recordings, even if lyrically they are much stronger than his previous songwriting efforts.
The comparative weakness of this record is apparently having little effect on Langhorne Slim’s career; an electrifying performer, he leaves audiences spellbound. But after seeing the real thing, Langhorne Slim is a passionless letdown. If you’re just starting to listen to Langhorne, start out with When the Sun’s Gone Down. While his most recent album has several strong tracks, it just doesn’t measure up to his earlier work.
// Notes from the Road
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