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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Langhorne Slim Finds Solace on the Road

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“Most relationships start breaking up the day you get in them,” Sean Scolnick says from a couch in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y. Scolnick is the titular character in his traveling show Langhorne Slim and the Law, a rootsy rock outfit with a relentless road presence fueled by spirited performances and Scolnick's ragamuffin, ne'er-do-well charm. His bit of sour wisdom is probably related to his recent heartbreak, which occurred a month before the recording of their forthcoming album, The Way We Move (out June 5).

Many of the songs were written and road-tested long before the band hit the studio, but they come off as strangely prescient. “[They] were written before the breakup, but I suppose subconsciously you kind of know it. When I listen back to it, I'm like, 'Holy shit, we were still sleeping together,'” Scolnick says. “Some of the songs were written after the breakup, for sure. But the emotional or spiritual place I was coming from after we broke up … It comes across more in the emotion of the record than it does lyrically.”

Scolnick was born for the road. It's been his home since before he graduated from the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College in the early aughts. He spent most of his senior year touring nationally in support of the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players after meeting Jason Trachtenburg at a New York City open mike. From the beginning Scolnick demonstrated an earnest, heart-on-his-sleeve intimacy and ramshackle joie de vivre.

Since then, Scolnick has released four albums and enjoyed a major label sip of tea on V2 Records, releasing an EP before the label changed hands. They let him take his self-titled third LP with him to Kemado, which released it in 2008, followed by Be Set Free in 2009. All this occurred amid a rabid touring regimen that found the band on the road eight months a year. Slim would occasionally brag that he hadn't paid rent since college—an almost decade-long couch-surfing streak. That ended, ironically enough, after Be Set Free, when Scolnick moved to Portland, Ore., to settle down with a pretty girl and her two lovely cats.

With that over, Scolnick's back to his old ways. He's actually leaving a friend's house when we speak, making his way to a five-day engagement on a couch in neighboring Greenpoint.

“This couch has expired, but my plan is to not pay rent anytime soon,” he says. “In not having one home, I'm realizing I have many more than I ever thought, across the country, through these dear people that are allowing me to crash with them. That's cool for now.”

In the meantime, Scolnick's attention is on The Way We Move. More than any other album, it's a band effort, the first by “the Law,” Scolnick's backing band the last few years. The band features bassist Jeff Ratner, banjo/keyboard player David Moore and longtime drummer Malachi DeLorenzo. Not only were the songs forged in tighter collaboration than on any other album, but also the band spent three weeks isolated in the Catskills together, recording the album with producer Kenny Siegel.

“We wanted to live and eat together, be around each other at all times…up in this old historic house up by Kenny's studio,” Scolnick says. “It was much more of a family affair, and we've been with each other long enough to know how to act and how to play with each other. It shows in the music.”

There's a rollicking camaraderie that shines through like locked-arm comrades enjoying a beer- and whiskey-soaked, front-porch hootenanny. It includes the groovy, impassioned organ-driven roots-soul of “Two Crooked Hearts,” the foot-stomping 86-second banjo rave-up “Someday” and the bustling hand-clap alt-country of “Bad Luck,” where he declares, “I was born with a thorn in my soul, sometimes it hurts … Bad luck got in me, but I will survive.”

That's the thing about life on the road: There's always another mile ahead to take you a little further from the past. That's just how Scolnick likes it. For now.

“I've been doing this traveling musician thing for all my adult life,” he says. “There's a time and a place for stability, sitting still and enjoying things. I just haven't found that exactly yet.”

Langhorne Slim and the Law plays the Turner Hall Ballroom on Friday, June 1, with Ha Ha Tonka. Doors open at 7 p.m.
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