Sarah Lee Langford unleashed a warm and inviting debut LP in Two Hearted Rounder on November 8th that has critics abuzz at the moment, and after taking a peek at its ten songs, I can definitely understand why. Langford mixes together components from a midcentury folk sound and a modern alternative country twang to create easygoing tracks that everyone from singer/songwriter enthusiasts to Nashville disciples can appreciate, and in numbers like the title track and “Big Women,” this sonic cocktail reminds us that you don’t have to be the most virtuosic composer in the world to make a quaking, deeply reflective harmony.
Stylistically speaking, there are a lot of diverse influences in play in Two Hearted Rounder, but the content never sounds all that scattered as a result. Langford bounces from elegant crooning in the Melissa Ruth-esque “Bar Stool” to a confident serenade in “Growing Up” seamlessly, and there are even a few occasions on which her swagger effects the mood of the music more than anything else does. The songs never devolve into experimental clutter, but I can see where her next record will probably be a bit more streamlined than this one is (if for no other reason than to maximize her attractiveness to various audiences and occasional listeners).
I would love to hear “Coattails,” “Painted Lady” and “Keep Your Diamonds” live, mostly because I think that the potential for them to form a larger medley in the style of a retro folk concert would make their narratives even more emotionally-charged and connective than they already are. These compositions have a lot of room to be spread out in a stage capacity, but this isn’t to dismiss their studio versions as being limited – the exact opposite, really. In Two Hearted Rounder, Sarah Lee Langford shows us the framework for her sound; her true identity, my gut tells me, will be revealed to us under the spotlight and in-person.
“What Came First and “Big Women” use a tension-building blueprint that allows for an optimal release in each track’s cathartic fever pitch, but in “Growing Up” and “Watch Me,” Langford uses a different technique that revolves more around her lyrical execution than it does an instrumental ebbtide. This type of songwriting wouldn’t work for a lot of modern artists, but she gets it to go thanks to her skillful utilization of old fashioned aesthetics, the best of which are neatly tucked into the melodic fabric without ever skewing the music with archaic or irrelevant themes.
Though I wasn’t aware of her before getting my own copy of Two Hearted Rounder, I’m really curious to hear what Sarah Lee Langford is going to turn out next. This album feels so much bigger than it actually is, and while some critics might consider it a bit bloated for a debut, I think that it’s a jam-packed statement piece that teaches us about who Langford is as a songwriter, and moreover, what kind of music she wants to produce in her budding career. She isn’t holding anything back from us in Two Hearted Rounder, and with any luck, she’ll maintain that attitude through every record she releases.