I feel a certain kinship with soulful folk-Americana troubadour Langhorne Slim. We’re a couple of Jewish kids who were born just two days apart, and we grew up in neighboring states; he named himself for the suburb of Philadelphia he hails from, while I grew up just outside of Akron, Ohio. We love a lot of the same stuff: Dylan, Waits, Cat Stevens, Woody Guthrie, Captain Beefheart, Will Oldham, and Uncle Tupelo.
Langhorne is a high-energy performer, someone who is more than dynamic enough to capture an audience when he’s out there on his own with just an acoustic guitar. There’s a lot of motion in his performance and you couldn’t miss it at The Birchmere in his recent date there: He moved around the stage, he came out from behind the mic, he went into the crowd. Slim had a lot of energy, and I could relate to that!
At The Birchmere on March 22, Langhorne was also quite the storyteller, and the stories were both affecting and humorous. There was a lot of sincerity and affection in the way in he talked about his family and his beloved grandparents, and it spoke to my own memories, especially those of my grandfather. He dedicated “Song For Sale” to his grandfathers, who were powerful figures in his life.
Slim was not afraid to be vulnerable and honest, and he spent considerable time discussing his mental health struggles. He’s battled alcoholism and panic attacks and, as he recounted in his set and in the song of the same title. He talked about being in therapy, saying, “I am now, but it took me a while to go.”
Watch the official music video for “Panic Attack” by Langhorne Slim on YouTube:
One of the powerful themes that run through the performance was the redemptive power of art. He talked about how he likes to see his shows as a “gathering of beautiful freaks,” and he talked about how music has saved his life, both as a child and now as an adult.
In 2021, he released his first album in four years, Strawberry Mansion, which is named for the neighborhood where his grandfather grew up. He wasn’t intending to write a record, he said, but the songs just came together. The album got strong coverage from NPR and other outlets, much of which focused on his recovery. Themes of hope and resilience abound on the record, in songs like “Mighty Soul” and “Morning Prayer.”
There is an art to writing deceptively simple songs that express powerful emotions like hope, joy, sadness, and fear, and that’s a lot of what’s going in Slim’s songs. The titles are often very descriptive of the songs, like “Life Is Confusing” and “No Right Way.” Others, like “Sugar Plum,” declare themselves to be simple, but have hidden depths.
At the beginning of his set, Langhorne described it is a folk show, but there’s more grittiness in what he does than most performers of that description. You could hear the Beefheart and Waits influences in his howling and screaming. He’s not afraid to get freaky and go wild, to let the animal inside go loose. He lets it all out and channels all kinds of raw emotion on stage. He is, to put it simply, a very soulful dude who wears his heart on his sleeve and who isn’t afraid to go out there and let himself feel it all. It takes a lot of bravery to expose yourself like that, and it’s admirable.
Much respect and much love, my Hebrew brother. May God’s light shine upon you.
In addition to the stellar main set by Langhorne, the audience was also treated to a terrific opening act by singer-songwriter Riddy Arman, out of Montana. She’s an interesting character, a former ranch-hand (“I do not self-identify as a cowboy,” she said drolly) who turned to music. Her songs, like “Barbed Wire,” had a definite western flavor. My favorite was “Spirits, Angels, and Lies,” which described the experience of her father’s last days in hospice in Maumee, Ohio, near a train line. On the day of Johnny Cash’s death, Riddy’s father imagined that Johnny came and offered to take him away on the train; he refused, not wanting to leave his family.
Watch the official music video for “Spirits, Angels, and Lies” by Riddy Arman on YouTube:
Here are some photos of Riddy Arman performing at The Birchmere on March 22, 2022. All pictures copyright and courtesy of Casey Vock.
And here are some pictures of Langhorne Slim performing at The Birchmere on March 22, 2022. All photos again copyright and courtesy of Casey Vock.