Jon Langford At Amoeba, Tuesday September 3rd 2017
Jon Langford had quite a career and is not ready to retire. Founder of the punk band The Mekons, of the post punk group The Three Johns and alt-country bands The Waco brothers and Pine Valley Cosmonauts, he is now releasing solo albums although he knows to surround himself with great musicians. On Tuesday night, he did an in-store at Amoeba with the help of his Chicago crew, just a few weeks after the release of his new album, ‘Four Lost Souls’ via Bloodshot Records. The show first appeared low key, with only acoustic guitars and not even a drumset, although a fifth musician behind the quartet was providing light percussion, but the set was very lively, with plenty of powerful vocals blending into a big sound, so that there was not a dull moment.
The Welsh musician based in Chicago was in a very good mood, abundantly talking and joking between his ‘pirate songs’ as he called them. The story behind this intriguing designation is that Norbert Putman, a member of the original Muscle Shoals rhythm section and a successful Nashville producer who worked with legends and was even Elvis Presley’s studio bassist, saw Langford’s artwork for Dylan, Cash, and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City, the long-running exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame, and was impressed. He invited Langford to record his ‘pirate’ music, as he called it, in the famous studio in Alabama. Recorded in 4 days, just one day after the infamous 2016 presidential elections, ‘Four Lost Souls’ got the participation of many famous musicians of the region, members of the Swampers, the Muscle Shoals rhythm section, such as bassist David Hood, keyboardist Randy McCormick, local drummer Justin Holder, pedal steel guitarist Pete Finney and guitarist Grant Johnson. However, at Amoeba, only Chicagoans were present, and Jon Langford was surrounded by guitarist John Szymanski and amazing singers Bethany Thomas and Tawny Newsome, who is actually living in LA now.
From punk rock to alt-country to Americana – although this vague term has a tendency to engulf a huge range of average music – Langford and his lost souls played a good sample of his new album, which brushes a large range of emotions and tempos. From the uplifting country-folk of ‘Poor Valley Radio’, which gave me a sort of Warren Zevon vibe, to the light-hearted ‘Natchez Trace’, a folksy tune animated by tambourines and plenty of harmonies from the two women like a new Laurel Canyon episode, or the gospelic ‘I Thought He Was Dead’ letting Bethany Thomas and Tawny Newsome’s soulful great chords shine, there was passion, emotion and joy with a beautiful contrast of the male and female voices during ‘In Oxford Mississippi’. ‘
The old-school Presley-meets-Cash tempo of ‘Snake Behind Glass’, with its delicate guitar changes and joking tone of funny voices was very entertaining and just followed by a heartfelt ‘Masterpiece’ and a very melancholic ‘I Felt My Courage Fail’.
Jon Langford, reminded me a bit about punk icon Mike Watt, he was the jovial type, happy to share his music, and he may almost have played the entire new album at Amoeba, which was extremely generous. They even came for an encore with ‘Half Way Home’, and may have played all night long if time had permitted. But under this uplifting mood, the punk spirit is well alive, found the politically-charged lyrics of ‘Fish Out of Water’, a very 70s-inspired song. ‘America feels more broken and divided than ever and democracy has become a creaking impotent institution that can barely justify its existence. We need some air so we can breathe but they’re too busy poisoning the water … Trickle down poison economics!’ Langford declared to American Songwriter about the tune.
From South Wales to the American deep South, the music they played at Amoeba transcended time and politics and even genres, but all the ghosts of Muscle Shoals were surely smiling all set-long, just like Jon Langford.
Poor Valley Radio
Fish Out of Water
I Thought He Was Dead
In Oxford Mississippi
Snake Behind Glass
I Felt My Courage Fail
What’s My Name
Half Way Home