A mythos surrounds the tradition of the troubadour that has attracted and created Americana’s greatest artists–and some of its greatest failures. And then there’s Pennsylvanian Langhorne Slim–a man of modest aims, yet unquestionably among Woody Guthrie‘s lineage. Backed by his band the Law, Langhorne makes dive-bar-stomping, bad-whiskey-strumming music of love and loss and hard times. He’s a man who, like Americana’s finest wandering guitar pickers, sings songs about salvation without a hint of irony.
The Way We Move is honky-tonk music for the modern man–not because it changes tried and true formulas or re-imagines a classic style, but because it’s aim is a timeless one that fits today as well as it does the songbook era. It’s an album for losers, an album of rage, and an album that will always have the heart of its listeners. Old subjects, old tales, old sounds, and a lot of fun.
Langorne spends most of the album making bad decisions and being fine with them. “Coffee Cups” gives one of the more extreme examples:
It’s early in the morning, what are we doing up
still drinking wine out of coffee cups?
That’s fine by me as long as I’m lying by you
Oddly, the slower tracks contain the same tenacious energy as the ones where the band’s train is teetering on its rails. Rhythms are insistent at their least notable and more often risk breakneck speeds and bloodied fingers. A more personal and (perhaps) less epic Avett Brothers, Langhorne sounds like a guy who goes all-in on every poker hand and doesn’t quite understand why he’s broke:
I might not be lucky, even though I tried
Bad luck got in me, but I will survive
he sings on “Bad Luck“, showing the humor of his writing in claiming to try for luck, but seeming honest about the effort nonetheless. His yelping, nasally voice will of course remind some of Dylan, but Langhorne cares little for cleverness or poeticisms, opting instead for a straight ahead approach that serves him well. He’s closer to the country-punk sound of Lucero than the songwriting godfather himself.
Musically, the album shifts enough in instrumentation–between guitars, banjo, and piano–to stay interesting. Horns sound out occasionally, accenting the songs and yet sounding at home. The Way We Move sounds like its cover: an old timey brawler that will be forgotten in time aside from the odd barroom tales it thrives in. But it puts on one hell of a show while it lasts. Langhorne ends the album with “Past Lives“, seeming to accept that fact:
When you’re alive, you’re alright
When you’re dead, you’re a saint
But Langhorne is doing more than alright with these songs.