‘The Spirit Moves’ sees Pennsylvanian singer-songwriter Langhorne Slim renew the aspects of his music made familiar on previous records, and while that includes his enjoyable, rugged vocal approach, it also includes somewhat of an unwillingness to move away from the conventions of the modern radio-friendly folk sound.
While the latter isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it doesn’t exactly give Langhorne Slim too much individuality. On his previous album, ‘The Way We Move’, Slim showed off his songwriting skills with a batch of warm, personal tunes that allowed him to give the listener a good sense of the ‘real person’ behind the music, and while he manages to sporadically pull off the same vibe on ‘The Spirit Moves’, it does feel a lot emptier by comparison.
That being said, there are numerous qualities to enjoy with this new record; Langhorne Slim’s vocals are expressive enough to just about give the album that personal touch in a few places. On songs like ‘Changes’ and the short-but-sweet ‘Strongman’, his vocals tremble in an almost-heartbreaking fashion. On occasion, the vocal delivery gets strenuously soulful, like on ‘Put It Together’ and ‘Life’s a Bell’, as Slim seems to wishfully reach out to the listener. While Langhorne Slim doesn’t necessarily show off too grand a talent for melody on this album, you can’t deny the accessibility of his music, ‘Strangers’ is beautifully catchy, with the emotional way he sings ‘for what it’s worth, we are strangers’, as plinking banjo sounds dance around. Speaking of banjos, they are just one instrument out of a wide array that make an appearance. A lot of the time, the different instruments complement each other nicely, with ‘Wolves’ boasting an endearing bass guitar/organ partnership, on top a finger-picked guitar and a nice, minimal percussion accompaniment.
As mentioned, despite a few touches of different sounds and styles – some bluesy, some soulful – the album still sits inside a fairly standard folk pop and alt-country bubble. There are a good number of moments that let us see how varied a songwriter Langhorne Slim is, but there aren’t enough hooks that could be deemed memorable, there aren’t enough songs that have that sense of character that he has managed to accomplish in the past. Some songs, such as ‘Airplane’, sound like an attempt at personal, thoughtful balladry, but the execution doesn’t necessarily offer any intrigue for what the stories that are being told are actually about. Considering the majority of the album is quite listenable, these might only be minor setbacks to some, but for me a lot of parts of the record feel quite hollow because of this; like the work of a storyteller who doesn’t have too great a story to tell.
There might be a few influences that you can pick up on while listening to ‘The Spirit Moves’ and it’s all very nice and authentic that these influences and roots are stayed true to, but while that may be the case, the album is definitely lacking the necessary personal touch that a lot of great writers from the past have managed to execute. The album is constructed with a lot of care, and a fair amount of effort, and while it certainly isn’t a chore to listen to, it’s all just a bit too plain.
‘The Spirit Moves’ is out now on Dualtone.