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."

Jonny Fritz

Nashville songwriter Jonny Fritz's work ethic and boldness have paid off in spades. It's been a big year for Jonny, with opening stints for Alabama Shakes, Deer Tick, Dawes, Shooter Jennings and rockabilly legend Wanda Jackson and kudos from CMT and Rolling Stone, among many others. He's signed a deal with indie label ATO Records (he actually signed the deal with gravy at Nashville landmark Arnold's Country Kitchen) and Loose Records in Europe, and his third full-length album, Dad Country, is set for release on April 16, 2013 (April 15 in Europe).

Produced by Jonny and Dawes' Taylor Goldsmith, recorded at Jackson Browne's Los Angeles studio and finished up in Music City, USA, this is a breakthrough album, balancing Fritz's earthy trademark humor and unfiltered worldview with some of his darkest material to date. The album has a Nashville sound kept aloft on a sure Southern Californian wind, no doubt from the influence of his backing band: Taylor and Griffin Goldsmith, Tay Strathairn and Wylie Gelber of Dawes, Jackson Browne, and his Nashville band of Spencer Cullum Jr, Joshua Hedley, Taylor Zachry and Jerry Pentecost.

Dad Country is also his first release under his real name, Fritz, with Jonny ditching the "Corndawg" moniker he'd carried since his early teens.

Now a music veteran with a decade of touring under his belt, he's grown into an accomplished, mature voice in country music. Says co-producer Goldsmith, "Funny as they can be at moments, his songs access realities and experiences that we're all familiar with but sometimes fail to consider the depths of. I was really honored to work on the record. We tracked for two days and arranged the songs on the spot. Everyone really responded to each other's ideas and the whole experience was really inspiring and easy. I chalk it up to the quality of Jonny's songs on this record."

After nearly a decade spent on the road (since his late teens), it was well-earned luck that brought Jonny together with dream team that would bring Dad Country to life – including none other than Jackson Browne. Originally scheduled to record at another Los Angeles studio, Jonny and co-producer Taylor Goldsmith were left scrambling for a backup plan when their original producer flaked. As it happened, they were playing a show in Hollywood that week and Browne was in attendance. After the show, Browne approached Jonny and, learning of their troubles, generously offered up his studio. Just three weeks later, they were all holed up at Browne's, recording the new record.

Fritz and Goldsmith had rehearsed most the songs together, but the rest of the band had to learn them run-and-gun style in the studio, nailing many of the songs on the first time ever playing them together. In just four days, they pounded out 14 tracks in one long, inspired rush and this excitement pervades the results. "It was really spontaneous," Fritz says.

"We just pulled it out of our proverbial asses as we went along." Fritz later re-recorded two of the songs that had evolved significantly on the road since the studio session – the Red Simpson-esque "Fever Dreams" and down-home lament "Ain't It Your Birthday" – using his own band back in Nashville. With these, the record was ready and dead-on with Jonny's vision of Dad Country.

Like his songwriting heroes Tom T. Hall, Michael Hurley, Roger Miller and Clint Black, Jonny can turn phrases 'til you're dizzy, all while plucking your heartstrings or capturing a sharp, lonesome vulnerability that never seems lost or brooding. For Jonny Fritz is no tear-in-the-beer sap moaning over his lost love and troubles. He'd rather cry running marathons than sitting on a barstool. Rather than Outlaw Country, he prefers we think of him as "someone's weird Dad" and a musician of his own bent. He writes his every song with that deep country-music impulse to turn real experience into lyrical form.

Born in Montana and raised in Virginia, Jonny grew up in the middle of mountains and weirdos of every allegiance, developing a blind man's ear for the slightest turn in a tale or human voice. He dropped out of school and left home early, totally undaunted, and toured the country on his motorcycle, selling just enough music to keep his freedom and stay ahead of bitterness. "If I could sell three CDs a night, I would have enough for gas and to make it to the next town."

Cramming six lifetimes into six years and collecting triumphs and heartaches every corner of the globe, he eventually wound his way toward Tennessee. "Not because I wanted to break in over on Music Row and 'make it,' because I knew I didn't really belong there," he says. "I wanted to learn the ways of country music ... to get my education in this cool old world that exists only in Nashville."

While immersing himself in the music world, Jonny began running marathons from Philadelphia to Barcelona and pounding out his signature leather works- the dog collars and guitar straps- seen all over Nashville and half the musical universe. He found himself in NYC for year trying to save a relationship, and its slow, painful unraveling (and demise) inspired Dad Country's bleakest, heartrending tracks, including "All We Do Is Complain" and "Have You Ever Wanted to Die."

These days, life has never been better for Jonny Fritz. He's back in Nashville again and putting down roots- and has even gone and bought himself a house. "It just keeps getting better. Now, the band is getting paid, I'm getting paid, everybody's happy, and we're packing 'em in when we play."

"This is the dream life. I couldn't really ask for anything else."

$16.00 - $18.00

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Langhorne Slim & the Law with Jonny Fritz

Friday, September 27 · Doors 8:00 PM / Show 9:00 PM at Haw River Ballroom