[10 August 2005]
I don’t have the foggiest notion what Langhorne Slim can do looking by the cover of this album, and I’m usually pretty good when it comes to that. At least I like to think so. The plaid shirt he’s wearing gives the impression he’s going to do his own Nebraska. Or an homage to Nirvana perhaps? The ruffled mane of hair could lead me to believe he’s going to give the listener a roots rock series of songs that wouldn’t be hard on the ears at all. Staring directly into the camera might connote he’s a serious singer-songwriter who wants to garner your attention to communicate his message. The photo itself is shot in black and white, so that might mean there’s an old school or vintage blues framework to the album. Okay, by now you’re as confused as I am and I admit I have no freakin’ idea what this cover means.
And Langhorne Slim’s first song features all and yet none of the above styles. “In the Midnight” begins as if he’s channeling Dylan circa Highway 61 Revisited, but his sincerity is met with a ramshackle, rambling arrangement that means it’s a folksy singer-songwriter on crystal meth. There is a brief sing-along moment that leaves you a bit perplexed but by verse two you should be along for the ride. And what an enjoyable, foot-stomping ride it is for the two minutes it lasts, thanks to the fine banjo picking by Charles Butler and drumming of Lane Brown. The slightly punk-styled “hey” in certain parts only adds to the luster. This rambling style is what Langhorne Slim is all about, and he does it quite well, mixing bluegrass, country, and blues in equally amounts so that you know instantly what this performer is all about. Think of Jack White if he was hitchhiking his way to Mississippi with Willie Nelson’s tattered guitar and you would get the music he’s performing oh so well. Or think of Sam Phillips going nuts over this guy after his first audition for Sun Records. Regardless of how you envision it, it soars, especially the boogie-riddled “Set ‘Em Up”. Need more rambling? Skip a few tracks down to the hoedown that is “And If It’s True”, which sounds fun and energetic, almost as much as the first tandem of tunes. And later on, “I Will” is the real grin-inducing, clogging mountain song that is worth repeated listens.
It’s odd that a record five minutes in can make you feel so good but this is what Langhorne Slim has done here. “Mary”, however, lacks none of the punch of the first songs, sounding like a Hawaiian track that Ricky Nelson or Buddy Holly once recorded only to leave buried in the vaults. The high notes are difficult for Langhorne Slim to reach, making it a tad more grating and trying with a lyric saying said Mary is sweeter than corn on the cob. “Sisterhood” contains the same melody as the prior track, which is somewhat confusing, a dreamy, lullaby triangle that should be part of the same song. Langhorne Slim has now gone down a dusty ambling lane on the pretty, if simplistic, “The Electric Love Letter” that the singer takes his time finishing off. “We both got nowhere to be”, he sings during the song as if the breezy, laidback arrangement wasn’t enough to drive that point home. Another one in the same vein has to be “I Ain’t Proud”, which has more of a shuffle feel to it as Langhorne Slim repeats the title as if it was his lone mantra in life. Another highlight to the song is the subtle lap steel guitar courtesy of Chris Bear.
When the boogie is abundant, Langhorne Slim can do no wrong, but although he isn’t bored by it, other tunes that are just off the boogie road are just as fine, particularly the groovy “Loretta Lee Jones” that comes off a bit like Cat Stevens in his prime if he found an old banjo beside Buddha in the chocolate box. The sleeper pick of this eclectic lot is “By the Time the Sun’s Gone Down” that is classic Dylan with more of a simple wordplay. His voice tends to weaken during the homestretch but still is worthwhile. The shocker is the Celtic-ish, swaying nature of “Hope and Fullfillment”, which brings to mind Canadian band Great Big Sea due to the accordion.