Langhorne Slim & The Law

Langhorne Slim & The Law

There is nothing like the challenges and camaraderie of the road to inspire a songwriter who thrives upon the emotional energy and exhilaration only travel can deliver. Some singers are devoted to the pursuit of perpetual motion, and Langhorne Slim releases his wild soul in ways that come out of the discipline of live performance.

The 13 songs that compose Langhorne Slim & The Law's new "The Way We Move" are road-tested, rollicking and very rock 'n' rolling tunes that the songwriter perfected with his loyal band, and come out of the kind of good times and bad experiences that songwriters of Langhorne's lofty stature can turn into life-affirming rock 'n' roll. You could also call what Langhorne Slim does folk music, but then there's his sly, charming and open-hearted feel for pop music -- those summertime melodies that nudge you into a grin even when the song is about something bad.

For Langhorne Slim -- Pennsylvania-born self-taught guitarist who moves to Brooklyn at 18, begins feeling out his place in a burgeoning punk-folk scene, wends his way to the West Coast, and finds himself celebrated from Newport to Portland as one of today's most original singers and songwriters -- "The Way We Move" represents the sound of a band devoted to living in the moment. Riding the success of his 2009 full-length Be Set Free, Langhorne went through some changes over the last three years -- he lost his beloved grandfather, who is the subject of the new record's moving "Song for Sid," and moved on from a relationship that had lasted five years.

And there was the physical moving -- the literal side of the record's title. Pulling up stakes from his home of two years, Portland, Ore., Langhorne also has been touring non-stop with The Law. As he says, "I'm in a bit of a transitional period -- currently, the road will be home. That's just kind of my spirit, to be slightly restless." Perfecting their rangy sound out on the endless grey ribbon, Langhorne and The Law -- bassist Jeff Ratner, drummer Malachi DeLorenzo and banjo player and keyboardist David Moore -- went down to rural Texas in the summer of 2011 to work on new material. With some 30 tunes to consider, the quartet soaked up the Lone Star sunshine and developed arrangements and approaches for Langhorne's latest batch of songs.

Jeff Ratner had joined the group at the time of Be Set Free, and brought on multi-instrumentalist David Moore not long after. Moore and Ratner go way back, having moved to New York around the same time, and they've played together in what Jeff estimates are 15 bands. Langhorne's association with Malachi is equally deep. As the group played together through tours with the Drive-By Truckers and the Avett Brothers, and made appearances at the Newport Folk Festival and Bonnaroo, their bond became ever stronger, their music more confident. This is what you hear on "The Way We Move" -- forward motion meeting deep cohesion, all in the service of Langhorne's amazing songs and compelling vocals.

"We wanted Langhorne's songs to shine, and be as raw as the creatures that we are," Jeff says of the recording process. The band set up in the Catskill, N.Y. Old Soul Studio, a 100-year-old Greek Revival house retooled for recording. With studio owner Kenny Siegal co-producing, Langhorne & The Law fearlessly ran through an astounding 26 songs in four days, with Langhorne putting finishing touches on new tunes as they recorded. Langhorne says it was an intimate affair in Old Soul, with Moore's "banjo room" in a coatroom and the piano in the living room.

It comes through on "The Way We Move" -- the live feel of the sessions, which found Langhorne singing along with the band on every track. "Singing with the band that way, it's almost like I was performing on stage," he says. Cutting everything live to tape gave the band exactly what they'd been looking for: a super-charged evocation of their raucous, friendly stage performances. Langhorne and Jeff value in music for its rawness, and it doesn't matter whether that rawness -- the insurgent spirit that unites the Clash and Charlie Poole -- comes from in punk, country, soul or folk. Langhorne is a fan of Porter Wagoner, Jimmie Rodgers, Waylon Jennings, and early rock 'n' roll in general. But there's nothing referential or detached about the music Langhorne & The Law make. Langhorne writes songs that are yearning, sad, happy, defeated and optimistic, with hints of '50s rock 'n' roll balladry.

"We all love Wu-Tang Clan as much as we love Bowie, or Brazilian psychedelic pop," Langhorne says. On "The Way We Move," David's probing piano often provides focus for Langhorne's tales of love and loss. "On the Attack" begins with a delicate, watercolor section that turns into an ingenious variation on a classic soul ballad -- Solomon Burke meets punk blues in a smoky folk club. Langhorne addresses it to a current or past love. Similarly, "Past Lives" sports a piano introduction that gives way to a melancholy 6/8 ballad that perfectly supports lyrics about possible past lives and their interaction with the present.

It's a spirited, inspired slice of real rock 'n' roll -- exuberance meets hard-won experience in an explosive combination. David's banjo and Malachi's walloping drums add up to a new kind of folk music. The music drives, but there's no loss of subtlety. And when the group lays into the garage-rocking "Fire," with its funky electric piano and supremely callow lyrics about first kisses and the hot-burning passions of adolescence, it's clear Langhorne is one of the great rock 'n' rollers of our or any time.

Road-tested as the band is, the new music also shows just how far Langhorne Slim has come as a singer. He croons, exults and sings the blues throughout "The Way We Move." And there are his lyrics, which are about strange dreams featuring women who want him dead even as he desires them, the pressures of small-town life, ambition, and how much he appreciates his mother's love and support. That's all Langhorne and his life -- his mother, he says, really was amazingly supportive of his ambitions to become a musician, as was the rest of his family.

It comes through as you listen to his virtuoso demonstration of a singing style that seems alive to every fleeting emotional shade of meaning. Langhorne puts you in mind of John Lennon's singing from time to time -- it's nothing exact, and Slim doesn't do much music that is very Lennon- or Beatle-esque, but it's something in the timbre, and the openness of his vocals. It's worth repeating here that Langhorne learned Nirvana songs as he began to explore the guitar and songwriting, and Kurt Cobain's intense singing is another reference point.

But these guys don't play the reference game, and like to keep it raw. The new record moves in ways that are fresh for Langhorne Slim & The Law, and demonstrates all the ways we can go forward while keeping an eye on the mirror. They're laying down the law. It's very American, and when Langhorne Slim contemplates whether or not he fits in to any narrow-cast definition of this country's music, he replies with a perfect, laconic joke: "I think we fit in most places that would take us."

The Easy Leaves

Old Standards, New Directions is a mighty fine slogan for the The Easy Leaves - Or New American Music from the Western Edge. Full-Spectrum Americana also does the trick. And as elated as they certainly would be by these turns of a carnival barker, this fine tuned yet loose, crafty yet tender, down-home racket of The Easy Leaves travels endless country miles past tweety length, out catching any catch phrase. So if you’re interested in getting properly acquainted with The Easy Leaves, a good-listen to the music itself is the only way.

Their new record, American Times (Omega Records), spans the breadth of American roots music from grassland stomps, minor swings and Honky Tonk grinds, to personal spirituals, and Rhythm and Blues. One example of the latter mentioned influence, the track Fool on a String, holds its own with ease, a worthy reciprocal to The Rolling Stones’ Under My Thumb.

The album also has an anthem, Keep It Country. The cruising dreamscape Honky Tonk Magic flirts with Doo-Wop melody and speaks to a purer time, and the empyrean feeling of a love lost. The (almost) title track, The American, extra handsome and honest, is about acceptance of self, and of something bigger. Heathen is about a relationship with organized religion, and it “goes there” with matchless finesse. And if this record were a religion the central belief might just be that the spirit of a rowdy drunken celebration and that of an old-time revival salvation are not separate. But , American Times as religion also wouldn’t try and force you to believe anything (maybe everything though? Maybe too it’d pull a shiny nickel from your ear, unscrew the top to the salt shaker, and help Grandma cross the street).

The Easy Leaves, songwriters Kevin Carducci and Sage Fifield, formed north of the Golden Gate in 2008 immersed in a diverse set of flailing rockers, gospel skeptics, and country outlaws. Their initial intent was to establish an old-time string band. However, this did not happen (at all). In love with just too many different musics, artists as disparate as Bob Wills and Smokey Robinson slinking into their songwriting, Kevin and Sage gave up their banjo habits cold-turkey. The Easy Leaves’sound was born- A modern acoustic sound, its roots kept close to the chest while tirelessly sprawling out in new directions that stretch the borders of the Americana genre in exciting ways.

“Our sound is a personal distillation of American music, based on the styles we like and all the songs and sounds we’ve been saturated with.” The finest filters on this still are songs written with painstaking attention to detail and dynamic intricate vocal harmonies. They’re melodic, lyric-driven (catchy-as-all-hell) compositions pinned with the syncopated rhythm of two acoustic instruments, guitar and upright bass. A trap kit, and pedal steel – The whipped cream and cherry.

Live, The Easy Leaves beguile any kind of audience.

Now here, with the explanation wrapped up, you might have concluded, might say, These The Easy Leaves are bringing in from most any musical column – We’ve heard of these turn left then right types. You’re probably correct. From that you might then conclude, might say, A record that does that must not be focused – Why these The Easy Leaves can’t keep their hands out of the Johnson’s trick or treat candy. But then see, with all due respect, you are not correct. To the contrary it doesn’t get more honed-in than The Easy Leaves, than American Times. And to know this for sure, know what’s being talked about, give that good-listen a go.

J. Thoven is Jake Pappas, Casey Lagos, Matt Gillen, Jared Slaybaugh, Jesse Dorman, and we love you!

$18 ADV - $20 DOOR

Tickets Available at the Door

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The Independent

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Langhorne Slim & The Law with The Easy Leaves, J. Thoven

Monday, July 15 · Doors 7:30 PM / Show 8:00 PM at The Independent

Tickets Available at the Door