june 2012

tim too slim langford
Tim ‘Too Slim’ Langford: A man who can do what he does here needs to pass this way more often.

Completely In the Moment

By David McGee

Tim ‘Too Slim’ Langford
Underworld Records

Those who know Tim “Too Slim” Langford only from his incendiary work with the veteran “Too Slim” and the Taildraggers trio—which has pursued a scorched-earth blues policy over the course of a quarter-century and some 16 long players—won’t exactly be surprised by the depth and power Langford brings to this compelling 11-song (all originals), one-man-band effort called Broken Halo, but the largely austere settings do reveal a more introspective, contemplative (and issues-oriented) side of the artist often obscured by the fury his trio raises. The common ground between the full band and one-man-band recordings is the artist’s complete immersion in the moment—no matter the languorous pace of many of the tunes here, Langford invests every lyric and each lick with authority, soul, passion and, when appropriate, sly wit. The conclusion of Broken Halo may not find you wrung out and dripping wet, a la the Taildraggers’ recordings, but you will be moved, and maybe looking at the world from a slightly altered perspective after this liberal dose of “Too Slim”’s bracing humanity.

Too Slim and the Taildraggers, ‘Peace with the Maker,’ from the band’s 2009 album Free Your Mind

Those who prefer their “Too Slim” in a band context have not been left to wander—Langford makes use of modern recording technology to back himself with multiples instruments and additional voices here and there, even as he keeps the pace deliberate a la the guitar-and-vocal performances. “Broken Halo,” the title tune, yields one of the album’s finest moments. Bass and drums provide the sturdy ballast for the track’s slinky blues-rock groove, as Langford picks tasty, slithering electric guitar lines and honks away on his harp while harmonizing with himself in extolling the virtues of what you might call a fallen woman, shrugging off her tarnished persona by pointing out “even saints got a little sin…” and defending his affection for her with “she’s got a broken halo but she’s still just an angel to me.” This same instrumental formulation works to great effect in grinding out “North Dakota Girl,” a slow, resolute confessional spiced with striking, shimmering harmonica and stinging acoustic guitar soloing supporting Langford’s measured account of finally finding the kind of girl his mama told him he should have been looking for all along, which allows him a moment of chagrin in which he admits, “I have but one regret/I wish she’d been the firsts girl I met.”

From his first solo album, 1999’s Pint Store Blues, ‘Too Slim’ performs ‘Shake It Baby’

As assured as the instrumental work is throughout, in the end it’s Langford’s writing and singing that elevate Broken Halo onto a higher plane. His voice (dry but not weathered) and his on-record persona (self-aware, not self-absorbed) are immediately engaging; he sounds uncannily at times like Lyle Lovett, but less studied, more natural, and considerably more earthy. (Less self-consciously ironic too—Langford sounds like he’s really lived his songs.) This has the effect of allowing Langford to stand outside his stories even as he inhabits them:  you can feel his frustration over the plight of the disenfranchised in the spooky, driving “Shaking a Cup,” which takes shots at people who disdain the homeless and politicians who use them as pawns, his fingerpicked guitar as relentless as his wailing harmonica is urgent, and without losing stride he observes how “people are gathered/taking a stand/raising their voices as best they can,” inserting this lyric at points where it becomes a kind of marginalia warning of an imminent storm. Country overtones and the ominous wail of a dobro suffuse “40 Watt Bulb,” Langford’s profane exposition of the life of a musician on the business’s lowest rung. The romance of the wandering troubadour has long since dissipated in this account, as Langford wearily reports of being holed up in “a crack hotel and it’s 20 below,” a 40 watt bulb being his only source of heart and “they don’t give a shit.” The song haunts precisely because Langford never makes too much of his plight, asks for no quarter and expects to be given none--“Playin’ my music so I can play my bills/I’m playin’ my music, so I can’t bitch/got six more nights of a three-month grind…”—and as the dobro’s buoyant swirls and the drums’ steady pulse fade out, you know the end of this story is a long way from being written.

From his 1999 solo album, Pint Store Blues,’ ‘Too Slim’ performs ‘Little Sister Boogie’

“Too Slim” has some fun with a love-for-hire theme (“bring on the fantasy…I think she really likes me!”) in the suggestive, lowdown groove of “Dollar Girl”; offers a melancholy musing (with an evocative, Kottke-esque intro) on the writer’s plight (“tales of love, and life and lies, to make you dream, laugh or cry/the writer’s thoughts are on display/for all to judge or criticize/diggin’ deep into your mind/is such a lonely place sometimes…) on "Three Chords"; and crafts two fine instrumentals, one being the ultra-evocative theme for an imaginary spaghetti western (“La Llorona,” a parched, dusty and foreboding slide workout that doesn’t end so much as it rather abruptly ceases to be—you half expect to hear the sound of a rattler and Clint Eastwood saying, “Well, let’s put it this way: they try to pay me off in tortillas, I’m gonna shoot ‘em right in the eye.”); and, keyed by a sprightly strummed ukulele joined by a lilting slide uke, “Princeville Serenade," as pastoral and soothing as “La Lloronia” is desolate and unsettling, a gentle, lovely and—dare it be said?—sweet theme-and-development piece that brings a bit of light to Broken Halo’s shadowland. Such are the manifold pleasures of “Too Slim” Langford’s inspired solo effort. His last solo project came in 1999, with Pint Store Blues. A man who can do what he does here needs to pass this way more often.

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024