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An Americana reflection of 2020 in America

Langhorne Slim reflects thoughtfully on a difficult year

Langhorne Slim has earned his dedicated fanbase with over 15 years of folky acoustic ballads which have helped define the modern Americana genre. On Jan. 29, Slim delighted fans with a new album, "Strawberry Mansion," that can only be described as a timely yet sobering work of art. "Strawberry Mansion" addresses everything from the pandemic to social inequality to sobriety to religion in 22 stunning songs. The album is dense, so before the album’s release, Slim broke it down into three parts.

18 of the 22 songs on the album were written in March, April and May of 2020, when the mystery and fear surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic dominated society. Part One of "Strawberry Mansion" beautifully tackles the wide range of emotions and devastating struggle that accompanied the early stages of the pandemic, all in the high-toned voice and acoustic instrumentation that have become staples in Langhorne Slim’s music. It opens with a pair of songs that preach optimism and resilience in the face of loneliness. The second song, “Dreams,” begins with a particularly powerful line. “There’s more to this madness than smiles and sadness / There’s more to this dance than who you can take,” is a reminder to listeners to look inward as we face the tragedy of the pandemic. 

As Part One progresses, it gets more and more pointed. “Lonesome Times” and “Summer Days” reflect on the isolation brought on by the pandemic, but perhaps the most relatable line on the album comes from the fifth song, “Alright to Hide.” The song masterfully masquerades the harsh reality of 2020 behind a piano riff reminiscent of a ragtime dance tune, but it bleeds out in the chorus — “I told you not to go outside / Why would I lie / Don’t be a dummy honey, come back inside.” 

Part One closes out by describing the harsh psychological and interpersonal effects. “Panic Attack” exposes the mental health toll of the pandemic, while “House on Fire” reminisces about relationships ended by quarantine. There has been a lot of music written about the struggles of 2020, but none as transparent and relatable as Part One of "Strawberry Mansion."

Part Two could be an album all its own. The first two songs share a common theme with much of Langhorne Slim's discography — religion. “Morning Prayer” and “Colors” are slow, melodic songs that tie Slim’s faith to his relationships and provide a glimpse into the inspiration of an artist who rarely shares details about his personal life. After the religious beginning, Part Two takes a quick turn and begins addressing two themes that have rocked 2020 along with COVID-19 — inequality and accountability. In a year packed with political and social change, the lines “You can spit-shine your diamonds / Get a big ol’ swimming pool / But if you ain’t got no one to climb in with / You’re just another lonely high-class fool,” from “High-Class” condemns wealthy, privileged people whose risky actions and behaviors during the pandemic have harmed others. 

After an instrumental titular track and a nostalgic ballad for his family home in Philadelphia, Langhorne Slim turns again to one of his common themes — his own journey. The last four songs of Part Two detail the work Slim has put in to achieve the success he has today, but more importantly, they tell his fans he isn’t done. In particular, “Something Higher” showcases his desire to continue to grow as a musician and produce more music, something every fan should be excited about.

Part Three, the conclusion of the album, consists of three demo tracks — each of which touch on a motif Slim has already addressed. “Nowhere To Go” once again tackles quarantine, while “Change of Plans” urges listeners to find solace in their differences and “Long Journey" reminds fans of Slim’s own path to success. Like all great writing, "Strawberry Mansion" has a cohesive beginning, body and conclusion. It tackles hard themes in thought-provoking and insightful ways — and does so over the beautiful piano, guitar and banjo melodies that have made Slim such a prevalent artist in Americana music. If "Strawberry Mansion" had to be summarized, it is a reminder to reflect quietly and honestly on the past year.

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