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Langhorne Slim – Be Set Free

on October 23, 2009, 4:45pm

Langhorne Slim is a young troubadour following in the giant footsteps of Woody Guthrie and an early Bob Dylan, no doubt with whom he will find himself compared from time to time. Be Set Free is Slim’s third album and shows a progression from his earlier work yet many of its defining characteristics. His voice has a seasoned, weathered tone that belies his relative youth and a band sound that is raucous and energised. His songs blend folk, country, blues and rock influences in a freshly engaging way.

Slim’s website points back to his sparse, listings-dominated MySpace, so if you’re new to the artiste you’re not going to find out much in the way of biog that way. Stop by and you can listen to a couple of tracks from Be Set Free here, plus some older stuff. Delving deeper, you can find that Slim was brought up in Pennsylvania but headed off to NYC where he spent a coming-of-age time on the lower east side, plying his trade as a singer-guitarist in back room bars and sharing new songs with fellow songsters. His early days equally have left their mark as much of his material harks back to his youth. The singer’s stage name also derives from his home town.

The new album has a raw feel and could almost be an analogue recording. Certainly there seems to have been a real attempt to capture a close to live sound. There’s little chance to get bored here as all the songs are short and to the point, making them all the more powerful as statements. There are 13 tracks, yet the album clocks in under 40 minutes. Langhorne Slim’s band gel particularly well throughout the proceedings. The impression is of a genuine band rather than a singer-guitarist with a backing band ,though Josh Ritter’s keyboard player, Sam Kassirer guests on the album and his input lends the collection some of its stand-out moments.

“Back to the Wild” kicks off Be Set Free and sets the tone for what is to follow. It’s an unusually short opener, very upfront with drones, piano and strident violin all adding to the intensity. It’s a song of regret but it’s philosophical rather than bitter as Slim recalls his past, “I’ve had it better than some and I know I shouldn’t complain/Though my grandfather told me once that all pain hurts the same”.

“Say Yes” follows in a more poppy vein, with shades of Springsteen about the delivery. But Slim is his own boss, bringing his individual mix to the party with some interesting musical and vocal touches. Track three, “I Love You, But Goodbye” is an obvious stand-out as a plaintive break-up song, piano driven and reflective in a Dylanesque manner. The opening question “Why did you come if you can’t stay forever” leads to the realisation that “a bird with clipped wings can still sing but can no longer fly”. After three strong openers, the album loses momentum lyrically and musically with the folksy “Land Of Dreams” and rocky “Cinderella” adding variety to the set but not that much more.

Things are stepped up with the title track “Be Set Free”, given a stirring country blues treatment and highlighted by Slim’s impassioned vocals. “For A Little While” continues the blues vibe with Slim in soulful mood, even hitting the odd falsetto. The cacophonic piano break mid-song is a great touch. “Sunday By the Sea” and “Leaving My Love” show a more wistful, quieter side of the artiste, though the latter song opens out more fully with an extended, heartfelt chorus. Here Erika Wennerstrom of The Heartless Bastards duets on vocals and brings a different dimension to an already exceptional song. “Leaving My Love” is definitely an album high spot.

The album rolls on with the banjo and piano driven “Yer Wrong”, a song about arguments yet with a light goodtime feel, and then the contrastingly sparse “Blown Your Mind”. We wind up with the bald, rootsy “So Glad That I’m Coming Home”, embellished with some angular guitar, raw violin and a fervent vocal, followed by “Boots Boy” in which the artiste is stripped bare, tidily rounding things off in soulful style with echoes of Joe Cocker at the song’s climax.

Be Set Free wears well on repeat listens but has an immediacy and directness too. It’s easy to mistake lyrical simplicity for naivety or artlessness but in keeping on message, Langhorne Slim has produced an accessible album anyone would be proud of, with enough musical treats to keep people engaged for the most part.

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Be Set Free Album Review: Langhorne Slim   Be Set Free

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