Langhorne Slim couldn’t have downloaded a better ringback tone. Call his cell and you’ll be met with not a simple ring, but the chorus to Bill Withers‘ Live at Carnegie Hall version of “Friend of Mine.” Full of good vibes and brotherly love, Withers’ feel-good anthem reflects exactly where Slim is in his own life: unfailingly optimistic and reborn. And his latest album, the jubilant The Spirit Moves, is indicative of the folky singer-songwriter’s new headspace.
Raised Sean Scolnick in suburban Philadelphia, Slim made a name for himself with insightful songwriting and off-the-rails live shows (see nearly any concert performance of the 2008 tour-de-force “Rebel Side of Heaven”). But prior to recording The Spirit Moves, released August 7th, Slim got sober. Now more clear-headed, he says he’s no less rambunctious.
“I want to be wild, but in a refined way. I had a lot of wild and swirling energy before and that’s where I was going, to feel those feelings. I’m no less pushed to feel the feelings, but I want to refine that energy. That’s what this record is about,” he tells Rolling Stone Country.
A mix of soul-shout revival, Americana introspection and the Fifties-evoking jams that Slim was perfecting long before the likeminded JD McPherson released 2012’s Signs and Signifiers, The Spirit Moves is an artist looking forward through a fresh set of eyes.
“I think it took getting sober, which was a huge fucking hurdle, to find myself on the other side,” he says of his recent transformation. “But the energy I have, the passion for life, none of that dwindled.”
Watching Slim and his band the Law’s recent performance of The Spirit Moves‘ standout “Strangers” on TBS’s Conan, it’s impossible to argue with him. Backed by a trio of female singers on the late-night show’s stage, Slim is every bit as unbridled as he was in his drinking days. Pushing the envelope just shy of catastrophe, even bodily harm, is the point of “Strangers,” he says.
Slim landed on that idea during a conversation with a colleague about exotic overseas travel.
“He was telling me a story about he and his wife going on a trip to Mozambique. . . He said, ‘I want to go places and feel the element of danger without the real risk of getting hurt.’ That really stuck with me. That’s how I live my life all the time, where I am always open to the greatest joys and the greatest pains,” Slim says. “But I want the element of danger without getting hurt. There is something profound in the way he put it. That was the impetus for the song.”
Call it the “amusement park ride” school of thought. And with The Spirit Moves, Slim is happy to sell you a ticket.