Album Review: Langhorne Slim – Lost At Last Vol. 1

I really love Langhorne Slim. I saw him at the Troubadour earlier this year, playing a solo set alone with his guitar. He was a few months away from finishing Lost At Last Vol. 1 and mentioned that it had been a particularly difficult labor of love. It was my first time seeing him live, and I was totally taken by his warm and unassuming stage demeanor and easy, rambling storytelling. Listening to this record, I kept flashing back to that performance, so simple and open-hearted. Lost At Last Vol. 1 has a lot going on musically. A jaunty, meandering album, you can feel the personal affect vibrating throughout the record, as if Slim threw every idea he had at the wall. A lot of it does stick, though the bells and whistles often get in the way of his inherent ability to connect to his listeners.

Dualtone released much of the album this Summer in the form of three EPs, in a move that felt artistically uneven. The full album works better as a sort of anthology of ideas, motivated by prolific, almost compulsive songwriting. At 13 tracks, 9 of which were previously released on the EPs, the record still clocks in at a quick 34 minutes. Slim has always adhered more to a classic folk-writing style, where the songs are simply structured and lyric driven, rather than the more contemporary pop-folk style of taking that classic song structure and developing it into a symphonically-layered instrumental-driven arrangement. The majority of his songs clock in under four minutes, and on this record most of them are under three. This gives the impression that Slim is in a writing frenzy at this point in his career, so much so that the title of the album implies future sequels. There is a kind of messy, quiet urgency to his writing on this record. Unlike his tightly-structured, critically acclaimed previous albums The Spirit Moves and The Way We Move, the structure on Lost At Last Vol. 1 is loose and rambling. Slim seems to be cutting loose in an unbridled manner that feels wholly authentic, even when it’s difficult to follow.

Some songs that were lost on the EPs stand out here: Life Is Confusing, which is a sort of perfect contemporary folk song, hit all my heartstrings at the perfect angle the first time I heard it (the duetting fiddle instrumental just speaks right to my soul), and works better as the album’s thesis statement than it does as a single. Old Things is a perfectly arranged little bluegrass ballad. House Of My Soul (You Light The Rooms) puts a Randy Newman-ish spin on Slim’s patented feel-good, spiritual-tinged, front-porch jam session vibe. The track is Slim at his best – life-affirming and joyful.

There are songs that feel a bit gimmicky (Ocean City, Bluebird) and songs that disappear as soon as you’ve heard them (Private Property, Lost This Time). There are musical surprises that come out of nowhere (tinny piano interlude Money Road Shuffle, sexy textured blues on Alligator Girl, and the weird indie-pop spin on Zombie that made me envision an undead version of Peter, Paul and Mary…in a great way.) It feels like looking into Slim’s writing notebook, and seeing the seedlings of his ideas germinating. With that many ideas on one record, it’s difficult for them all to be fully realized. However, Slim’s innate ability to make really feel-good music is fully intact, if at times off-kilter. Lyrics that I wish I’d written (on Funny Feelin’: “I know you think I’m crazy, I can’t say that it ain’t true, but I’ve got a funny feeling that you’re a little crazy too”; and on Never Break: “Let’s fall in love with our telephones off”) are so simply universal and affecting. There is so much heart and soul in Slim’s music, as there is in his energy onstage, and his optimistic spirit permeates the whole record. At the end of the day, the record works best if you let go of the listening and just feel it, the way he does.

“We’re all born whole – through livin’ we fall apart”, Slim writes on his website in an introduction to the album. He’s taken his heart and mind apart on this record, and though the pieces are sort of scattered on the floor, they shine with as much passion and joy as ever.

Phoebe Silva