Broken halo 90Full of stories, Langford’s solo turn has plenty of grit and passion

Label: Underworld Records
Time: 11 Tracks / 41 minutes  

Tim ‘Too Slim’ Langford has made a strong impact on the blues scene with his band The Taildraggers. His last four releases each made the Billboard Top Ten Blues Albums chart and my review of his Shiver album noted that “if you want to find filler here, you’ll have to get your magnifying glass out, because I can't find any.”

But this solo effort is his only his second in eighteen releases. Without the pulse-pushing propulsion of his tight rhythm section or, say, the soul of guest Curtis Salgado, Langford is exposed here.

He starts in unexpected fashion. “La Llorona” uses flashes of guitar harmonics and a brooding mood to sketch a scratchy picture of tumbleweed and desert scrub. The piece is inspired by the Hispanic legend of The Weeping Woman, who drowned her three children to be with the man she loved, but he later turned her away and so she committed suicide. Kept from heaven, she wandered the earth, scouring it to find her children. Later, another instrumental “Princeville Serenade” creates a chillier mood as Langford picks up his ukelele.

The solo format’s starkness comes into its own when Langford vents visceral verve on two songs. “Shake the Cup” is a voice for those who have to beg, while the angrier “40W Bulb” does a similar thing for travelling musicians who have to face ignorant or heckling crowds.

At the other end of the emotional spectrum, he reflects in “Gracie” on his grandmother’s death when he was little; the effects that it has had on his grandfather and how he was too young to appreciate quite what was happening in his family. His thoroughly authentic lyrics confess, “I wish I knew her better, but I was just a kid, and didn't care much about what old people did.” That puts it beautifully; many of us have been there.

If these songs seem to often be stories, then that is one of Langford’s strengths. As with his band album, he refuses to add padding, so there is always something interesting going on – so vital in a mostly acoustic blues release. “You Hide It Well” is a conversation with an alcoholic; the title track and “Dollar Girl” are encounters; and “North Dakota Girl” is the writer’s struggle with taking his mother’s advice.

“Long Tail Black Cat,” a remake of an earlier band song, is a more generic take on the blues and a couple of the others are take-it-or-leave-it songs, but the vast majority are strong and individual tracks. Langford adds to the variety by switching from guitar to Dobro to ukulele, in and out of slide mode, all garnished with dashes of harmonica and a few “full band” numbers.

It’s rare to get such thoughtful writing in this genre and Langford’s playing matches it well. This is another case of independent musicians using their experience to improve with age.

Derek Walker
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