Nothing is quite like watching the music industry develop in waves. In the first few years of the new millennium, particularly, the ever-changing trends appearing each season have mimicked the musical styles of decades past. In four short years, the world has been subjected to artists influenced by ’60s garage rock, ’70s folk singer/songwriters, ’80s post-punk, and, more recently, soulful country music that had once been long forgotten by mainstream ears. Perhaps the collaboration between Loretta Lynn and Jack White on Lynn’s Van Lear Rose has helped the genre make a comeback, but among the country and folk artists gaining popularity in the last few months, one in particular stands out. And I’ll be damned if it isn’t Langhorne Slim.
Born in Langhorne, Pennsylvania (Population: 1,981), Slim spent part of last year and early this year sharing the stage with the Flat Possum Boys, Regina Spektor and the Trachtenburg Slideshow Family. He also played at the Bonaroo Music Festival in Tennessee — the hidden track on The Electric Love Letter, Slim’s debut EP, was recorded live at that festival. The track shows his ability to command attention and thrive despite having to battle an enormous crowd with just his voice.
And the singer delivers just as powerfully on his studio-recorded tracks as he does in that sole live recording; in the EP’s six songs, Slim displays his capacity to interpret retro country and blues influences while reflecting his own charisma and vocal dominance. If anyone can be accused of cooking up a mean batch of gritty songs appropriate for someone much older than a recent SUNY-Purchase graduate, it’s this musician. In the first two tracks, Slim goes from the aggressively built-up, harmonica-laden, traditional country opener “My Future” to the stripped-down, bluesy acoustic ballad “Lord,” in which he cries out, “You’ve turned a world full of shit and made it a little bit kinder/ So take my breath, God/ Take it away” and “I’ve found my true love/ Now she’s buried away.” It’s an interesting contrast from the feel-good music worthy of country festivals that makes up the rest of the album.
He’s so passionate and his performance quality is so perfectly exaggerated that I wonder whether he’s being genuine or playing out a well rehearsed facade. If his persona is phony, though, he’s one hell of an actor. To call Slim a conventional country singer would be to ignore the way he creates time-honored music while displaying a rare folk-punk image. An odd concept, yes, but the man is more punk-rock than a number of bands calling themselves “punk” today. He’s similar to Kind of Like Spitting or early Billy Bragg, just because he delivers with aggression while under the guise of a soft medium like the acoustic guitar.
Though it may have seemed unfathomable a few years ago that Slim’s brand of country music could reach mainstream success, it’s likely more musicians with his spirit may provoke the heightened interest to remain for just a little longer than some of the other trends that have come and gone. Yee haw, indeed.