There is little more that Daryl Hall can do to prove himself as a performer. Anyone skeptical of his soulful ability to sing across genres need only tune into his monthly web broadcast, now on syndicated television, Live From Daryl’s House. Month to month, he shares the microphone with fellow legends, such as Smokey Robinson, and rising stars, such as Nikki Jean. It is a true example and a fine illustration of art-meets-Internet innovation. Hall invented the LFDH innovation, and his stunning voice powers its engine.
Now, after a 14 year hiatus from releasing new, original music, he is back to prove himself, yet again, as a songwriter. Hall calls his new album, Laughing Down Crying, a “box set” of his mind. It represents all the varied musical styles that live within the artistry of Hall. The pop-rock single “Talking to You” demonstrates that he can still write the infectious and irresistible hooks that he and John Oates made famous throughout the 1970s and ‘80s.
“Eyes For You” has a casual-but-never-lazy, jazzy-but-never-easy smoothness that provides the perfect soundtrack for a midnight ride through the city lights. “Save Me” and “Message to Ya” present a one-two punch of soul-driven horn inflicted rock. Hall screams and shouts his way through the songs with the ferociousness of the barreling down train he sings about in the first verse of “Message to Ya”.
The rock of “Get Out of the Way” and the blues of “Problem With You” manage to sound both familiar and contemporary. “Problem With You” captures the last moments of Hall’s longtime guitarist, bass player, and best friend, T-Bone Wolk. Wolk died of a heart attack three hours after recording the song. Wolk’s untimely death, and the pain Hall must have felt following that death, undoubtedly, even if sadly, contributes to the best quality of Laughing Down Crying. The entire album is a navigation of the proximity that exists between joy and despair, triumph and tragedy, and love and death.
The emotionalism of Laughing Down Crying is complex, complicated, and contradictory. Through a confrontation with the complexity and contradictions of swinging from pain to jubilation, and back again, Hall offers a realistic atlas of a human being’s emotional geography. On the celebratory “Lifetime of Love”, Hall is ready to commit to a new relationship with resolve, strength and hope. A few songs later, he’s preparing for his own emotional destruction, on “Crash and Burn.”
The song that best captures the confused condition of the album’s heart is the title song. “Laughing Down Crying”, as a stand alone phrase, doesn’t make sense. Its cryptic nature is its point. In the same breath and in the same lyric, Hall seems to be singing about the loss of an old relationship and the beginning of a new one – the vanishing of a bygone era and the emergence of a new one.
Love should empower and ruin a person. It should destroy what existed before, and replace it with a new spirit, new mind and new identity. The self-destructive and creative process of love is at once terrifying and exhilarating. For many people, fear will defeat love and they will settle for an easy resolution that preserves what is comfortable and familiar. Fear gains more wins than losses in an American culture dictated by careerism and consumerism. People live their lives as torpedoes. They have a launch point and an ultimate destination, and therefore, will not tolerate any distractions. Love distracts, distorts and directs without concern for pre-made plans. “Laughing Down Crying” is a remarkable achievement because it captures and gives insight into the shifting reality of those whose hearts are on their sleeves and those whose understanding of life is that it is best lived on the emotional edges. The song has a bottom beat and melody. Its light drums and acoustic guitar riff leave the space for Hall’s voice to smoothly and soulfully ebb and flow and rise and fall through the emotional turbulence.
With the songs that make up this fine collection of American soul and pop music, Hall proves that with the pen and at the mic, his voice is more than capable of reaching the depths and heights of emotional truth.