Friday, October 2, 2009

American Langhorne Slim, The Avetts & Truckstop Coffee

Langhorne Slim has been transformed. I'm not sure if it was for love, for sobriety (or maybe both) but the rawkus folker has softened the edges and looked inside himself for inspiration and answers. He dives into some morose subject matter on Be Set Free - loneliness, moving on and hoping things will get better, getting sober – but somehow balances the weight with an optimistic glance to the future.

Even with the surprisingly full and well thought out (that little burst of horns on Sunday By the Sea is so perfect) arrangements, his Cat Stevens-esque delivery and methodical pace help the record feel light. Strings, piano, backing female harmonies all help Slim demonstrate that he’s more than just a foot stomping, Dylan-inspired folk singer that thrives when the drinks are poured and the sweat is flying.

Sure, Be Set Free does have a few missteps – the pop sheen he adds to a few tracks take away from the every man word play and I just can’t get into Cinderella – but the record has some fantastic highs as well. Land of Dreams chugs along happily as Slim and his band play with layers (the keys buzz nicely) and the banjo and female vocals give the song the life it needs, so does the sing along until you’re hoarse chorus of Say Yes.

For me, Slim’s songs aren’t supposed to rely on clever word play and that reality is why you buy into what he says. Simple equals better for the PA man; case in point, on another artist, you might dismiss a statement like “I don’t want to break your heart, but I probably will” out of hand, but when Slim says it, you hold onto it even as the song moves forward. Be Set Free should be the record that helps Slim get noticed by more than bar going music fans. Leaving My Love is as close to an NPR/radio friendly song as he’s recorded, and honestly if we’d get a steady diet of this type of music on the airwaves I might actually listen.

Luckily, I’ll be in Vancouver on Nov. 3rd and be able to catch the band @ The Media Club. You’d be wise to do the same.

MP3:: Langhorne Slim - I Love You, But Goodbye

It’s no secret that The Avett Brothers are back with a Rick Rubin produced major label debut. Obviously, that’s going to leave fans with two very polarized opinions. Long time fans will probably be wary of the polish and production of I And Love And You. On the other hand, if you have the chance to make the jump to the next level, not have to spend every hour of your day driving in a shitty van and still write music you are proud of, who wouldn’t?

Sadly, I’m left pining for some of the gritt that helped make their older records so special. The Avetts are one of my favorite bands, without question. I could listen to them pour out emotion like they do on the title track for hours on end and simple banjo ditties like January Wedding is exactly the type of song that drew me towards the band in the first place, but when I hear ballad after ballad, part of me misses the Avetts that burned down stages and burned with intensity.

Don’t get me wrong, I And Love And You is full of great songs, they just seem to be a lot of the same type of great song. It’s too easy to assume Rubin decided on a vision for this record, but I do think influence muddles the identity of the band. The first half the record is full of tracks, any of which could be a single or a crowd approved sing-along. Growing up, becoming a better man. The Avetts pen lyrics that hit you in the heart and actually make you want to be a better person. It’s a remarkable skill, but so is showing that sometime your imperfections don’t need to be buffed out. A scar is a great story, one that you hold onto for ever.

I’ll have no problem with the Avetts being one of the biggest bands in the US, playing huge stages and festivals. In fact I hope it happens. They’ve given me so much enjoyment – and still do – and worked hard to get where they are today. This record shows huge steps forward in their song writing and shows a focus that most bands don’t have. Chances are though, even when I’m singing along to perfect tracks like Ten Thousand Words or eyes closed to the harmonies on Laundry Room, part of me will miss the good ole days where I felt they were as flawed as I was.

MP3:: The Avett Brothers - I And Love And You

Finally we are left with a Florida band that pours every ounce of heart into every note they play. When the electric guitar static jump starts Truckstop Coffee’s bar rock anthem, Ghost or Angel you kind of know you are about to hear something special. The six minute epic is a drunken sing-along waiting to happen, and really tells you everything you need to know about the band.

Emotion. Adrenaline. Loud. Alive. These are the words that the band channels with each riff, cymbal crass or surging chorus. Pete Stein’s voice sounds like hearing your oldest friend onstage talking about the good ole days you want to relive and the shitty ones you can’t seem to forget. The band sort of eschewed the country stylings that I heard when I did a quick check on their back catalog and went into full bore twang rock. Power ballads like Costumes and the infectious Laredo Skies happily stand side-by-side with chunky rockers like 16 Ounces.

Drinking. Heartache. Family. Wanting to leave, but always needing to come back home. Growing up up North means I have no idea what growing up in the South is all about, but these words are what Truckstop Coffee makes me think are the most important things. Other than a few road trips to New Orleans and some fantastic weekend camping in Virginia - that were always heavy on legendary hospitality, booze and debauchery – everything I’ve ever thought about the South comes from film and TV. It might sound cliché, but if I had to force this band and this sound into a scene from a movie, it would be from Elizabethtown (a movie I hated by the way). When the band takes the stage and starts killing Free Bird… everyone just feels like they’re home. Truckstop Coffee somehow makes me feel like I’m home.

MP3:: Truckstop Coffee - Ghost or Angel

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Posted at 8:30 AM by ack :: 1 comments

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