Langhorne Slim optimistically looks at tragedy
In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, there lives a neighborhood called Strawberry Mansion. Two men named Jack and Sid grew up and called this place home. Years go by, Jack and Sid get older, marry women and have children—a daughter to Jack and a son to Sid. These two children, then too grew older and had a boy named Sean Scolnick, or Langhorne Slim, as the music world knows him. Slim grew up hearing stories and idolizing his grandfathers and their stories of Strawberry Mansion.
Strawberry Mansion is Langhorne Slim’s brand-new double-album that deals with personal anxieties, social constructs and the state of the world. The defining element behind this album, besides his grandfather’s, was the horrendous COVID-19 pandemic and a tornado that tore his home down in Nashville. Using this as writer’s fuel and showing who he is, Slim demonstrates what an expert singer-songwriter he is, with highly introspective lyrics and a talent for melody. Strawberry Mansion is a way for Slim to grasp reality and offer a hand to anyone else that might need one to grasp as well.
Slim opts for a light look on some of the catastrophes of 2020 saying, “Someday the world might blow your house down, first a tornado then a plague,” almost casually he croons on “Mighty Soul;” however, this is not him taking the issue lightly, this is an optimistic glance at a gloomy situation. Calming guitars dance in the background as he comes back around to show his true vision for repair, “Let us use our hands to help and hold, let us utilize our mighty soul.”
Bluegrass makes an appearance behind the disguise of piano and quick guitars in the second song, “Dreams.” A soothing reflection on life, Slim dreamily shows the Nashville in his Pennsylvania. Again, his Tennessee faithfulness comes out in “No Right Way,” complete with harmonies and a banjo.
“Lonesome Times” offers a switch, some comfort and one of the better songs on the album. An acoustic guitar and piano are reminiscent of a reunion of a musical family sitting on the couch together listening to the most talented play. Throughout the song, he speaks in the plural—“are we lonesome? Yes, I guess…there goes our happiness.” He speaks about a specific relationship, one can’t help but feel some solace during our own lonely times that seem to come so often since March of 2020.
So far, his allusions to destruction have not been all that shadowed, however, “House On Fire” shows his most powerful metaphor yet. “House on fire, me and my baby on the lawn. Watch it burn to the ground, all we have is gone.” Helplessness seems to be an emotion that has gone through everyone’s minds at some point recently, and this is exactly what Slim has put into picture. At the same time, there seems to be some sort of acceptance of what is happening—another feeling that many have had.
“Morning Prayer” is sure not to disappoint even the most pretentious of music snobs. Functioning as an actual prayer—beginning with “God” and ending with “I offer myself to thee”—it serves as an unusually pessimistic look at the man he is and who others are. He begs, “from this bondage set me free.” Every ounce of passion can be seen in a 2020 live performance shot by Crackerfarm (which can be found here).
A funny, ironic portrait of the high life according to Langhorne Slim is presented in “High-Class.” His point is that you can “spit-shine your diamonds” or maybe “get a big-ol swimmin’ pool,” but if there’s no one you love, you just turn out to be “another high-class fool.” Backup singers and strums back up his point.
“Strawberry Mansion” begins with a hopeful fiddle, piano and guitar that continues on to be a solely instrumental song to preface the next song on the album, “The Mansion.” Slim is accompanied by his bandmate going through the twists in his mind and “living through the death of introspection.” Still lyrically tight and vocally impressive, it misses more than it hits for being the title track of the album.
The final song on the original version of this album, “For the Children (demo),” might throw one off initially. It is full of teaching moments and musically written in a way that would go perfectly at a children’s library; yet, these “teaching moments” are wildly too complicated for a child. For example, “Reality’s a fallacy, an agreed-upon construction” and “we’ve been raised in ways to keep the system going.”
The final three tracks are separate from the rest and are cited as “bonus tracks.” All three sound rougher in quality, but are some of the strongest songs on the entire project because people are able to see Slim do his thing with just a guitar. “Nowhere to Go” is a fun, up-tempo song about the internal struggle of wanting to leave but having nothing anywhere else. “Change of Plans” reacts to the notion that everyone feels out of place, so all you can do is “believe in who you are.” “Long Journey,” the period at the end of the poem, functions as this album’s best song. With an intro that Lynard Skynard would be proud of and Blackberry Smoke would be inspired by, three guitars jam together behind Slim’s searching voice ringing out to complete it all.
Comedians, politicians, even artists have beat the dead horse into submission when it comes to commenting on the COVID-19 epidemic. Yet, somehow, Langhorne Slim has done it in a way that does not seem tired, outplayed and most importantly, actually informative both informationally and creatively. On top of all of the darkness though, an optimism shines through it all and can hopefully act as a model for listeners on Strawberry Mansion.