Langhorne Slim, Carey Ott and Ali Sperry
Langhorne Slim has achieved cult status for his smoky voice and bluesy, boot-stomping folksongs. Last year he released The Way We Move. His artful lyrics — and those of roadhouse musicians and night-owl romantics Carey Ott and Ali Sperry — recount moving on when you’d rather stay, and vice versa. Instead of making you feel like a witness to someone removing his own appendix with a spoon and a bottle of Jack, these performers draw you in. In the 1934 movie Imitation of Life, loyal housekeeper Delilah tells her boss: “It don’t seem right for you to be carrying around them heavy cans of syrup, peddlin’.” In the case of these local singers, it don’t seem right for them to be carrying around albums of ass-kicking heartbreak. But that don’t make it any less fun to sing along. Pitiless honesty and excellent drumming imbue tales about fucking up a good thing — with soul, even. There’s so much authentic life in their mistakes that it’s hard not to dance, and why shouldn’t you? The pleasure in hearing about getting better always has to do with the details of being bad to start with.
Portland OR | Alternative
There is nothing like the challenges and camaraderie of the road to inspire a songwriter who thrives upon the emotional energy and exhilaration only travel can deliver. Some singers are devoted to the pursuit of perpetual motion, and Langhorne Slim releases his wild soul in ways that come out of the discipline of live performance.
The 13 songs that compose Langhorne Slim & The Law's new "The Way We Move" are road-tested, rollicking and very rock 'n' rolling tunes that the songwriter perfected with his loyal band, and come out of the kind of good times and bad experiences that songwriters of Langhorne's lofty stature can turn into life-affirming rock 'n' roll. You could also call what Langhorne Slim does folk music, but then there's his sly, charming and open-hearted feel for pop music -- those summertime melodies that nudge you into a grin even when the song is about something bad.
For Langhorne Slim -- Pennsylvania-born self-taught guitarist who moves to Brooklyn at 18, begins feeling out his place in a burgeoning punk-folk scene, wends his way to the West Coast, and finds himself celebrated from Newport to Portland as one of today's most original singers and songwriters -- "The Way We Move" represents the sound of a band devoted to living in the moment. Riding the success of his 2009 full-length Be Set Free, Langhorne went through some changes over the last three years -- he lost his beloved grandfather, who is the subject of the new record's moving "Song for Sid," and moved on from a relationship that had lasted five years.
And there was the physical moving -- the literal side of the record's title. Pulling up stakes from his home of two years, Portland, Ore., Langhorne also has been touring non-stop with The Law. As he says, "I'm in a bit of a transitional period -- currently, the road will be home. That's just kind of my spirit, to be slightly restless." Perfecting their rangy sound out on the endless grey ribbon, Langhorne and The Law -- bassist Jeff Ratner, drummer Malachi DeLorenzo and banjo player and keyboardist David Moore -- went down to rural Texas in the summer of 2011 to work on new material. With some 30 tunes to consider, the quartet soaked up the Lone Star sunshine and developed arrangements and approaches for Langhorne's latest batch of songs.
Jeff Ratner had joined the group at the time of Be Set Free, and brought on multi-instrumentalist David Moore not long after. Moore and Ratner go way back, having moved to New York around the same time, and they've played together in what Jeff estimates are 15 bands. Langhorne's association with Malachi is equally deep. As the group played together through tours with the Drive-By Truckers and the Avett Brothers, and made appearances at the Newport Folk Festival and Bonnaroo, their bond became ever stronger, their music more confident. This is what you hear on "The Way We Move" -- forward motion meeting deep cohesion, all in the service of Langhorne's amazing songs and compelling vocals.
"We wanted Langhorne's songs to shine, and be as raw as the creatures that we are," Jeff says of the recording process. The band set up in the Catskill, N.Y. Old Soul Studio, a 100-year-old Greek Revival house retooled for recording. With studio owner Kenny Siegal co-producing, Langhorne & The Law fearlessly ran through an astounding 26 songs in four days, with Langhorne putting finishing touches on new tunes as they recorded. Langhorne says it was an intimate affair in Old Soul, with Moore's "banjo room" in a coatroom and the piano in the living room.
It comes through on "The Way We Move" -- the live feel of the sessions, which found Langhorne singing along with the band on every track. "Singing with the band that way, it's almost like I was performing on stage," he says. Cutting everything live to tape gave the band exactly what they'd been looking for: a super-charged evocation of their raucous, friendly stage performances. Langhorne and Jeff value in music for its rawness, and it doesn't matter whether that rawness -- the insurgent spirit that unites the Clash and Charlie Poole -- comes from in punk, country, soul or folk. Langhorne is a fan of Porter Wagoner, Jimmie Rodgers, Waylon Jennings, and early rock 'n' roll in general. But there's nothing referential or detached about the music Langhorne & The Law make. Langhorne writes songs that are yearning, sad, happy, defeated and optimistic, with hints of '50s rock 'n' roll balladry.
"We all love Wu-Tang Clan as much as we love Bowie, or Brazilian psychedelic pop," Langhorne says. On "The Way We Move," David's probing piano often provides focus for Langhorne's tales of love and loss. "On the Attack" begins with a delicate, watercolor section that turns into an ingenious variation on a classic soul ballad -- Solomon Burke meets punk blues in a smoky folk club. Langhorne addresses it to a current or past love. Similarly, "Past Lives" sports a piano introduction that gives way to a melancholy 6/8 ballad that perfectly supports lyrics about possible past lives and their interaction with the present.
It's a spirited, inspired slice of real rock 'n' roll -- exuberance meets hard-won experience in an explosive combination. David's banjo and Malachi's walloping drums add up to a new kind of folk music. The music drives, but there's no loss of subtlety. And when the group lays into the garage-rocking "Fire," with its funky electric piano and supremely callow lyrics about first kisses and the hot-burning passions of adolescence, it's clear Langhorne is one of the great rock 'n' rollers of our or any time.
Road-tested as the band is, the new music also shows just how far Langhorne Slim has come as a singer. He croons, exults and sings the blues throughout "The Way We Move." And there are his lyrics, which are about strange dreams featuring women who want him dead even as he desires them, the pressures of small-town life, ambition, and how much he appreciates his mother's love and support. That's all Langhorne and his life -- his mother, he says, really was amazingly supportive of his ambitions to become a musician, as was the rest of his family.
It comes through as you listen to his virtuoso demonstration of a singing style that seems alive to every fleeting emotional shade of meaning. Langhorne puts you in mind of John Lennon's singing from time to time -- it's nothing exact, and Slim doesn't do much music that is very Lennon- or Beatle-esque, but it's something in the timbre, and the openness of his vocals. It's worth repeating here that Langhorne learned Nirvana songs as he began to explore the guitar and songwriting, and Kurt Cobain's intense singing is another reference point.
But these guys don't play the reference game, and like to keep it raw. The new record moves in ways that are fresh for Langhorne Slim & The Law, and demonstrates all the ways we can go forward while keeping an eye on the mirror. They're laying down the law. It's very American, and when Langhorne Slim contemplates whether or not he fits in to any narrow-cast definition of this country's music, he replies with a perfect, laconic joke: "I think we fit in most places that would take us."
In an age of blurry lines differentiating musical genres, Ali Sperry & the Family Vacation are a Nashville-based conglomeration of friends, roommates and lovers who’s music one could describe as indie-pop-folk-rock. And you might as well go ahead and sprinkle on some Americana and stir it all up with some soul. The songs in their simplest form are stories of love, of hearts broken and healing, and explorations of human relationships with ourselves and one another. In layers of lush string arrangements, of rock & roll electric guitar with tender finger-picked acoustic, and drum tones that run the gamut from Ringo to tribal, these simple stories become evocative and visceral musical landscapes.
Ali had the good fortune in this life to be born to two musician parents who encouraged her innate desire to sing and create music from the time she could speak. The first "official" song of Ali’s was written and performed at age 7 in front of 2000 people at the Golden Domes in Fairfield, Iowa. These are the lyrics:
"It's in the sky, I see it fly
It's in the air, everywhere
I know that love has come, peace has come, a song has come
Lighting the light of everyone everywhere."
Music has been a constant in Ali’s life. Her childhood soundtrack was her mom’s singing and her dad’s cello playing, in addition to being well-steeped in their favorite music of the 60s and 70s—Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor. Once Ali discovered her mom’s vinyl copy of Song to a Seagull in 7th grade, she began to obsessively sing and harmonize her way through the whole album and then flip it over and do it again.
Her love of music, combined with a passion for theatre, brought her to Syracuse University where she studied musical theatre and got her BFA in acting. Writing songs only as a hobby during these years, she spent some time in New York after college to pursue acting. At a point when she had relocated to Chicago, and the music-creating side of her was gaining traction, Ali was granted the opportunity to audition for a band in Nashville, Tennessee. Family friends of hers were putting together the all-girl group Sweetwater Rose and Ali had a feeling that her life path was about to be altered. She literally drove the U-haul from Chicago straight to the first SWR rehearsal.
Now, nearly four years later, Ali has released her debut solo project Storybook and she and the Family Vacation are embarking full-steam-ahead to play this music in clubs, theatres, homes, coffee shops, bookstores and bowling alley’s all across the country. The band loosely formed in January of 2012, when this group of friends gathered together in the studio to record Storybook. When Ali was first preparing for the album, she had no plans of putting together a band, she just asked her most trusted and dear musical compatriots to get involved with the project, and they did. It was the force of their combined energy and creativity that made these songs what they are, how they are meant to be heard.
Violinist Kristin Weber and bass player Chris Miller go back to their first week of freshman year at Berklee College of Music. They became members of the band The Young Republic and toured extensively throughout college and after, in the states and abroad. Together, they relocated to Nashville and even after The Young Republic, Kristin and Chris played together often. Among other bands, Kristin has toured with the David Mayfield Parade and has played with Eric Church, Langhorne Slim, and Kree Harrison. Chris has also played with Ferraby Lionheart, Natalie Prass, Chelsey Scott, Molly Martin, and others.
Ali’s path crossed with Kristin’s via a craigslist add seeking a roommate. From the first shy meeting, in which the girls showed up to the designated coffee shop in matching pants, they knew they were soul sisters. Fast friends, Kristin and Ali would sometimes have “roommate jams” at home, and Kristin introduced Ali to her circle of musician buddies, which included Chris, as well as Wes Langlois and Sarah Wilfong, who also appear on Storybook. Both Kristin and Chris sat in with Ali’s band Sweetwater Rose on several occasions.
Producer of Storybook, and multi-instrumentalist Kyle Ryan, had also migrated from Berklee to Nashville , but he didn’t know Kristin and Chris until they had all moved to Nashville and had many mutual friends. When Storybook was first being conceived, it was a combination of friendship and intuition that led Ali and Kyle to confidently commit to creating it together. Ali had—and has—great respect for Kyle as a musician and suspected that he would be as tremendous a producer as he is musician and person. In the end, she couldn’t have been more thrilled with the arrangement. Kyle’s gentle but confident steering of the studio ship put everyone at ease and created the perfect atmosphere for this labor of love. While Kyle still appears with The Family Vacation from time to time, he is currently on a major national tour playing with Kasey Musgraves and opening for Kenny Chesney!
Jamie Dick came on the scene just in time. He and Ali met in December at a yoga class she was teaching and hit it off famously. He attended the class with his roommates, Brittany Haas and Kai Welch, who have since become Ali’s beloved friends and sometimes-members of The Family Vacation. Jamie, Kai and Brittany are musical collaborators with Abigail Washburn and The Village, and were freshly back from their latest tour in China. At a Christmas party they were hosting, Ali and Jamie discovered one another’s musical tendencies and Ali casually asked Jamie if he’d want to play on her record. Jamie agreed enthusiastically, even though neither of them knew anything of the other’s capabilities or style. Ali recalls the first time Jamie was over at her and Kristin’s apartment and with beet-red cheeks, she played and sang her song “Sweet Afternoon” for him, so hoping he would like it and be excited to play with her. The first time Ali witnessed Jamie playing drums it was accompanying Kai at a Tom Petty cover night at The Five Spot. She was moved by the strength and tenderness that came through in the way he played. She was also quickly falling in love.
Scott Hardin is the newest member of the Vacation, but he and Jamie have worked together for years and when there was an opening for a guitarist in the group, Jamie knew that Scott would be just the man for the job. Being the tight-knit group that they are, it couldn’t be just anyone taking this spot. It was crucial that the vibe was right. Everyone knew right from the get go that Scott brought the right vibe to the party. Having played guitar since he was 11, Scott has performed in many bands and now spends a great deal of his time as a recording engineer in Memphis.
“I can’t think of anything more joyful,” says Ali “than the act of making music with people who I love as friends and deeply admire as musicians. There is no company I would rather be in.”
Nashville TN | Rock
What are we to make of Carey Ott and his music? Is he the new Jackson Browne, are his sleek and seductive melodies what could be called quiet storm? His voice is human silk and his arrangments and lyrics carry a lot of muscle while adding up to the seduction album of the year. Ott has evolved his craft from Torben Floor, a band more in common with the punk sounds of The Ramones or The Undertones, through country and now to this hybrid of all that he has been through. I’m reminded of the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson’s great line: “I am a part of all that I have met.” Carey Ott is like that, his lyrics have a universal poignance, we’ve all been there, just most of us dissolve into frustration rather than turning that emotion into a three-minute beauty of a pop tune.