Americana has not lost its grip on Langford, nor vice versa.— Pitchfork
Let’s skip the history and instead focus on the primary constant – Langford’s barkeep approachability and an affable approach to political frustration and career disillusionment.— LA Times
Carted to Alabama under the cloud of dark politics, a band drew a glistening straight line from punk to country to soul to grand theater. On November 8th, the day after the 2016 election, Welsh-bred, Chicago-based musician and visual artist Jon Langford and a crew of merry-makers and alchemists filed into the NuttHouse studio, a one-story former bank building in Sheffield, Ala. (population 9,039). The musicians from Chicago, Nashville, Los Angeles, and just over the Tennessee River bridge made the pilgrimage to a place of legend and myth, where music runs as deep as the river’s current, to see what might come of it all.
Four Lost Souls, recorded over four days, originated in 2015, 100 miles north in Nashville where Langford produced artwork for Dylan, Cash, and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City, the long-running exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Fate had it that one of those Nashville Cats, bassist and producer Norbert Putnam, was so enamored with Langford’s paintings and piratey singing, he invited the stranger to come record in the Shoals.
A year later Langford is in that studio with many of the musicians who put the region, as well as renowned FAME Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, on the musical map. Among them, members of the Swampers, David Hood and Randy McCormick—world famous players who have performed on all the songs you ever loved—and next-generation, in-the-right-pocket local drummer Justin Holder. Along for the ride were Nashville’s in-demand pedal steel guitarist Pete Finney and guitarist Grant Johnson. Together they dutifully crafted a project brimming with images of killing and hope, Faulkner, the Natchez Trace, and the sea.
As word got out around town, the musicians of the Shoals stopped by to see what Putnam was up to with these Chicagoans — Jon, guitarist John Szymanski, and the electrifying singers Bethany Thomas and now-LA-based Tawny Newsome. Tomi Lunsford, a mountain soprano from Nashville, slipped into the vocal booth to duet with Langford. The morning after his gig at Champy’s, a local watering hole, Will McFarlane parked his Harley at the front door to say hello. Five minutes later he was behind studio glass with his guitar. And five minutes after that, he was back on his bike turning the corner in a cloud of dust and exhaust.
Thus was the strange weather in the Shoals during that week in American history. Crammed between arrival and departure at the NuttHouse was a fever heat of creativity that crossed musical generations, racial lines, and the invisible barrier separating the flatlands of the upper Midwest and rolling hills of the deepest South. Even the ocean between the Delta and the dingy port city of Newport, South Wales, Jon’s hometown, evaporated out of sight.
The South is full of ghosts and they all ask unresolved questions. Nothing is settled and the music won’t sleep. Muscle Shoals itself personifies a place where America’s great cultural explosion transcends the murderous politics of race and class that stain this country from slavery and civil war to today. To tomorrow. The music speaks to the best in us, while reflecting, at times, the worst of us.
Four Lost Souls is pure Americana, not just because of where it was recorded or who played on what track, but because it is beyond the news of the day. It is a travelogue of sorts; it goes to a place where the differences between country, soul, blues, and rock-and-roll are blown aside by the warm languid breezes. The music had no time for such petty details, because in the moment, in that place, was the sound of sweet agreement.
The L'homme de Renaissance of indie rock. The prolific Welshman-cum-Chicagoan has done it all in his time.
Founded the Ground Zero UK art/punk collective The Mekons (who, many suggest, went on to inadvertently turn a bunch of punk rock snots like Bloodshot Rob into country fans with their seminal albums Fear and Whiskey and Honky Tonkin') , noise rock progenitors The Three Johns and countless collaborations with greats, near-greats and unheard of cult figures.
For Bloodshot, he's been an indefatigueable presence in our shoddy offices since day one. In addition to all his musical contributions as a solo artist, he's created lots of cover art, produced lots of records, lent his ham-fisted guitar stylings to recordings by the Old 97's, Roger Knox, Rosie Flores, Kelly Hogan, Andre Williams, Sadies, Sally Timms, Danbert Nobacon, Alejandro Escovedo, among others, draws a comic strip, writes books, appeared as the backing band on This American Life and acts as a reeling papa bear figure to many of Chicago's musicians looking for direction and reassurance in this vicious racket we call the music industry.
Since the man creates more music than any one band could possibly hold, he's also the guiding force in the Waco Brothers, the rarely convened collective of the Pine Valley Cosmonauts, the Skull Orchard and Wee Hairy Beasties. At any given time, he might have a few other irons in the fire, or plates in the air, or pies in the oven, or cubes in the tray. It tires us just trying to keep up.
The revelatory aspect of Jon's prolific body of work is that he's always treated punk rock as folk music and folk music, when it stays true to its roots, can be awful damn punk. Woody Guthrie pissed off as many, if not more, people than Johnny Rotten. Also, country music, REAL country music tells a story and lays bare the truth as honestly and directly as anything the Clash ever did. For Jon, the line between Acuff-Rose and Strummer-Jones is a direct one. He also never lets a firm stance or a strong opinion get in the way of a hearty laugh or a ripping good yarn, preferably told in the company of friends with a frothy pint glass within reach.
We've learned a lot from him over the years. First and foremost, doing everything honestly and honorably is its own reward. Just keep moving. Keep your head down and perform your job. Don't look back. Let the rest of the world sort it out. Don't get bogged down by the misses. It's helped us survive in this racket, and it helps us in our daily lives.
As nice as he is prolific--rather unheard of in the hyper-rarified environment of notoriety.
For a gander of Jon's Art, peruse Yard Dog in Austin, TX; home of the annual Bloodshot SXSW shindig.
Official Website: Jon Langford Online