by Jane Roser
It would be Murphy’s Law that I have to be in New York Wednesday night when Langhorne Slim is performing at Philly’s Union Transfer. An artist I have highly respected and admired for awhile, Langhorne is no stranger to the Keystone state. Taking his nickname from his childhood home of Langhorne, Pa and attending high school in New Hope, hometown shows are especially meaningful to him. “My family and friends are in Philly and New Jersey and to have them all come out, it’s just a beautiful experience. I’ve had a lot of support in the Philly area.”
Starting out learning to play the guitar, “My cousin taught me some, but mostly I’m self-taught. It was born into me, this was something I was going to do. I would get into trouble performing [in school], no one was applauding, I just got sent to the principle’s office. I excelled with theater, but soulfully and emotionally, I was drawn to music. I had a cousin who was 14 years older and a musician and I would go to Atlantic City to watch his band play and was blown away. He taught me two Nirvana songs and I just kept playing them over and over again. I really enjoyed playing the songs I loved, it took over my imagination, my mind and my soul; it was a natural passion in me that had to come out.”
Gaining notice at festivals like Bonnaroo, the Philadelphia Folk Festival, Newport Folk Festival, Lollapalooza and touring with such highly acclaimed bands as Lucero, The Avett Brothers, Josh Ritter and most recently Grace Potter and The Nocturnals and The Lumineers, Langhorne quickly gained a fan following from his energetic, spirited concerts called by the UK’s Guardian as “one of the greatest live acts.” Although I would probably add the word ‘ever’ to the end of that sentence.
Films and commercials came a-calling, finding Langhorne’s whimsical, colorful songs the perfect fit for the story they were trying to tell. The film Waitress includes a poignant scene that could not have portrayed the feeling of playfulness to the extent that it did were it not for Langhorne’s song “The Electric Love Letter”, which perfectly captures the moment of an adorable, innocent crush. “You make my heart skip a beat, let it flow. It’s like lightening when she smiles, she tastes just like pumpkin pie.” I loved the whimsy and honesty of this song so much that I added it to the playlist for the store I ran and not a week went by where someone didn’t stop and ask “who sings this?” ” It’s so random,” he says, “now we work with a great licensing company that pitches our music. Back then, it was just the music supervisor for the film deciding which songs fit certain scenes, but mostly, it just dropped into our laps.”
Langhorne has been touring endlessly this past year with his band The Law (Jeff Ratner on bass, David Moore on keyboards and Malachi DeLorenzo on drums) to promote their 2012 album The Way We Moved which was recorded in four days in a (possibly haunted!) 100 year old Catskill, New York house. “It was an electrical thing. There were fewer challenges than we’d ever had before due to the set up of the band. We’d been on the road non-stop for two years and had solidified as brothers.”
Performing mostly Americana and alt-country genre tunes, I asked for his thoughts on why this genre of music has gained so much momentum lately. “People want to get back to a raw, organic sound, it’s why so many are drawn to this type of music and it’s become mainstream.” Recording this latest album “was a long time coming, cutting it live. We wanted to be in a rural retreat setting that was suited to a grittier, rawer environment. The diamonds are in the dirt. A lot of us wanted to get our hands a little dirtier.”
I’m curious about the choice of album cover imagery, which is a nifty, grainy black and white photograph of two boxers duking it out. “It was our keyboard player and manager who came up with it. I had originally wanted a classic image of a guy breaking the speed barrier on a motorcycle, but the [rights to use this photograph] would have cost too much. We were kicking around different ideas when my manager found this. I love boxing and old boxing images, Ali is one of my heroes.”
The Way We Moved is a kick ass album- cathartic, beautiful and wild. The lyrical poetry is fresh, but visceral “I feel a little uneasy, fill your prescription, I fall asleep to the ammunition’s lullaby. Oh the lines been drawn, the lambs been lead, but you can’t always eat what you’re fed.” What inspired this line? “I was writing about myself. ‘The lines been drawn’, is about knowing what’s real, what’s bullshit, what I want to eat, both real and metaphor. I’m trying to figure it all out, to know the actual structure of who you are, who you stand for. Maybe there’s more to it, but then again, maybe there’s less.”
Langhorne Slim’s music speaks for itself. Courageous and heart-wrenching, delightful and beautiful with a little kick of Tabasco on top.