At Chunklet’s mammoth “Mess with Texas II” party at SXSW this year, Langhorne Slim (a.k.a. Sean Scolnick) showed up wearing a black wife beater, a bowler hat, and tight, cut-off pants that exposed his legs to his upper thighs. Okay, mister: ya got our attention, despite the ages-old train-track drum beats laid by a percussionist with the phrase “War Eagles” emblazoned in what appeared to be electrical tape on his kick drum.
This intrigue despite commonplaceness parallels Slim’s music, itself. We’ve observed the handsome and dapper yet country-trash image in Ryan Adams since his Whiskeytown days, and even the newercomer’s wit is matched by any lyric Josh Ritter ever penned. Still, the collection of songs on Slim’s second full-length release has its appeal, and he manages to gain attention with his sing-songy, boyish warmth.
Given the genre, the optimism of these songs is initially striking and expectation-thwarting. One comes to expect dreary, pathos-driven wailings about relationships gone sour. Slim’s opening track, “Spinning Compass,” may well be about a relationship gone sour, but the perspective comes from a narrator who has decided to chalk it up and move on instead of sit around and pine: “Time once we got along/ It’s too bad that that feeling’s gone/ Time once we could agree/ It’s too bad you find fault with me.” The accompanying music reinforces that sentiment with its upbeat tempo and sing-along chorus. “Rebel Side of Heaven” continues that theme of oh-well optimism, assuring probably some girl that “I know we have sinned all of our lives/ But we ain’t goin’ to hell/ We’re goin’ to the rebel side of heaven” amid an energetic bevy of instruments including organ, piano, guitar, and horns.
The album’s best tracks are scattered throughout the record. “Restless” features some impressive musicianship from a standup bassist as well as a line with syntax John Milton would admire: “Had more wine than I knew what with to do.” “Diamonds and Gold” is the stunning centerpiece of the record as a warm and almost bluesy slow dance carried by tried-and-true but never old Wurlitzer ambiance. Less overt in its charm is the quiet “Colette,” the album’s wistful ode to a spirited and fearless femme.
Though Langhorne Slim has its delights, one would be remiss not to note its flyover country. The repetitive, cowpunkish “Tipping Point,” with the aforementioned train-track beat, grows old far before its brief 2:07 mark and is so utterly devoid of a hook that forgetting the melody within minutes after hearing the song is easy -- yet forgetting its obnoxiousness is not quite so easy. “Hello Sunshine” suffers from weak, insipid songwriting: “There’s a place I know in lower Manhattan/ If you want to, we can go/ There’s always something happening/ They know me there/ They’re very nice/ It’s owned by a carpenter and his ex-wife.” At some point, musicians are best served to consider what’s worse — leaving on uninspired songs or making a too-short record. As we’ve seen time and time again in the music industry, tough-love editors are a must, and this song illustrates why.
Overall, however, this second full-length effort from Slim is a pleasure. With his inherent charm, optimism, and cut-off pants, combined with a little bit of luck, Mr. Scolnick stands a chance to break through our “no more Americana/alt. country/neo-folk/whatever you want to call it” walls and give us the warm and fuzzies. And maybe we’ll have a little fun in the meantime.