No Slim Pickins Here

When the Sun's Gone Down (Narnack Records)
Langhorne Slim

By Sean Hoban

Musicians and music lovers are on a constant quest for something "more real." Frustrated by increasing technology or imitation in music, some turn back the pages of music's history books, perhaps preferring Howlin' Wolf to Bono. There seems to be a special merit to sitting in a lonesome chair in a dusty room, finger-picking a guitar. This image fits Langhorne Slim and his first LP, When The Sun's Gone Down, as snugly as his well-worn cowboy boots.

Slim's first disc (a 2004, six-track EP) was heartfelt and unrestrained; its harsh beauty made you want more and now more you get. Adding thirteen new tracks to the two strongest from the EP, Langhorne builds songs on strolling guitar and banjo, a trembling voice and occasional harmonica and humming. Over this background, he sings front porch ballads, stories of bad love or love that just can't be ("I'd kill to be alone, with the strength to be alone"). It's a blend of spirituals and blues with early country and western. I'd call it cowboy blues and I think if you could convince Slim to bang on an electric guitar for a bit, he might sound like Jack White on the White Stripes' "Little Room."

The slow strumming, casual "Checking Out" ("Well I can't fight like the devil or do what I'm told / but one of these days, mama, I gotta hit the road) mixes with square dance energy, like "And if It's True." There is also stark beauty and clever wordplay on tracks like "Drowning" ("Don't ask me any you questions, I won't tell you my lies; / words deserve to serve a painful penalty). Like legends Robert Johnson and Ray Charles, perhaps Langhorne's most prominent trait is his voice, laid out sometimes softly and sometimes with an ear-splitting screech, always an earthy bird-like crooning.

Humble, honest and homespun, Langhorne (only 24, with a soul much older) sings "I ain't proud lord, today" - but I am impressed.