Langhorne Slim grew up just an hour and change outside of Philadelphia, but his music is imbued with his grandparents' stomping grounds. Slim's reverence for the past and relentless optimism give his brand of Americana music — gritty and tender, mellow and punk-inflected — its special shine. While Langhorne Slim first achieved notice with is band Langhorne Slim and the War Eagles in 2006, but his 2012 album The Way We Move was his breakout release. The title track played in the background of a Microsoft ad, the trailer for the Tina Fey and Matthew Broderick movie Admissions, and even won over Conan O'Brien as an instant fan.
But beneath the church tent revival fervor of his live shows and relentless pursuit of happiness in his songs, Slim suffered from intense anxiety. He tells Rolling Stone than when he ran out of his medication on tour in Europe, his doctor disapproved of how over-prescribed they are in America, and advised Slim wean himself off them.
The pandemic lockdown presented just the right opportunity to do that. Slim, with the support of his friends, overcame a massive creative block and wrote the songs that would become Strawberry Mansion, his most recent album.
"Strawberry Mansion is the neighborhood in Philly that my grandfathers Jack and Sid grew up in," Slim explains on his website. "It’s become a place of myths for me. A place that’s dirty but sweet, tough but full of love. Where giants roamed the earth and had names like Whistle and Curly."
There are plenty of songs to love through Slim's career, though. Here are ten of his very best, so far.
"Ocean City (For May, Jack & Brother Jon)"From: 'Lost at Last Vol. 1' (2017)
"Ocean City (For May, Jack & Brother Jon)" fondly recalls memories of summer afternoons and nights in the Jersey shore beach town with his grandparents. It's a soft-spoken song that communicates the excitement of summer vacations that feel like they'll last forever. It's also a loving character study of Slim's grandparents, who loom large throughout his work.
"Morning Prayer"From: 'Strawberry Mansion' (2021)
"Morning Prayer" comes from Slim's pandemic album Strawberry Mansion, which came together after a long period of writer's block and anxiety. Slim describes the writing process for this album as if the songs were "floating in the air right in front of me," ready for him to pluck. The song certainly feels like a spiritual breakthrough for Slim, realizing — as we all did in those spring mornings of 2020 — that giving up the illusion of control is liberating.
"Bluebird"From: 'Lost at Last Vol. 1' (2017)
Lost at Last found Slim playing with traditional folk melodies, giving them a contemporary kick with his wry humor. "Bluebird" is a fiddle-kissed stomper that celebrates the simple pleasures of the morning with a new lover after an exciting night out. Slim finds joy in the quiet moments — and turns them into parties at his concerts.
"Whisperin’"From: 'The Spirit Moves' (2015)
The Spirit Moves, Slim's 2015 followup to his breakout hit, was a sharp departure from his scrappy old-timey punk. Instead, Slim traced the experimentalism and jazz influences of '70s British folk. "Changes" encapsulates the best of Slim's storytelling. As vivid as the story is, Slim's economy of words makes the tale of a betrayed lover into a sparse poem, a crooning ballad where others might take their feelings out with a more bombastic approach.
"Mighty Soul"From: 'Strawberry Mansion' (2021)
"Mighty Soul" is another standout track from Slim's 2021 album Strawberry Mansion. The song's construction is simplistic, but the message is not: we all have our parts to play in humanity's collective well-being. And it doesn't need to take much to activate us to do so: a simple song is all we need.
"Put It Together"From: 'The Spirit Moves' (2015)
"Put It Together" is one of the more raucous songs on The Spirit Moves. With that initial crash of drums, the song introduces itself as an irresistible ear worm. On the song, Slim channels early rock'n'rollers who combined gospel tradition with more polished lounge singers. You can practically hear Slim swiveling his mic stand around. The song's tinkling piano line gives some merriment to a song that is ultimately about how love is only a temporary salve for mental illness.
"Life is Confusing"From: 'Lost at Last Vol. 1' (2017)
"Life is Confusing" continues upon the experimental vein on Slim's 2017 album Lost at Last. The song is meditative and comforting, even in the midst of confusing changes. It's a longstanding theme in Slim's work: change is inevitable, and we can't control the circumstances under which it happens.
"Changes"From: 'The Spirit Moves' (2015)
Speaking of which, the somber thoughtfulness of "Changes" was the initial indicator for fans that The Spirit Moves would show Slim moving into a radically different direction than The Way We Move. With lilting banjos, carefully picked guitar -- and a delicate string section holding things down, "Changes" was certainly a change for Slim's songwriting. And it was a hit.
"The Way We Move"From: 'The Way We Move' (2012)
No overview of Langhorne Slim's career would be complete without "The Way We Move." Slim represented a large swathe of the music coming out of Williamsburg and West Philly: scrappy music that was not punk, not folk, not rock — but something wholly organic, and revolutionary compared to the post-9/11 apathy of indie rock. "The Way We Move" was in the right place at the right time: while Slim was probably more at home with fellow South Jersey rockers the Gaslight Anthem, the advent of The Lumineers
paved the way for folk music that was spunky, energetic, and easy on the ears.
"Song for Sid"From: 'The Way We Move' (2012)
"Song for Sid' is the culmination of any Langhorne Slim set. An ode to the "giants" of Slim's life, it's one of the truest that Slim has written. The raw emotion in the recording is affecting no matter how times you listen to it. The chorus asks a question that resounds through many of us, especially after our nation's collective grief: where do the great ones go when they're gone?