There's something in the water at Muscle Shoals. From Aretha to Dylan, Skynyrd to the Stones, dozens of rock and soul legends have tapped into the funky energy that permeates the music recorded there. Jon Langford is the swamp land's latest convert.
The Welsh-born, Chicago-based musician has been making alt-country waves with the Waco Brothers for a couple of decades, but his latest solo effort, Four Lost Souls, is a different kettle of kippers altogether. "Poor Valley Radio" is a gentle, melancholy duet bolstered by spare piano and Pete Finney' weeping pedal steel that feels like a modern take on Byrds-era country-rock, circa 1973. Through "Natchez Trace" and "In Oxford Mississippi," Langford's heavy UK accent tends to work against the authenticity of lines like "Faulkner is still here," although how can you not like a line like, "Grab a twenty from the ATM / Andrew Jackson's on the road again."
The Southern concept album has been done before, and done better, by the likes of Tom Petty and Drive-By Truckers. But Langford has earned his insurgent country bona fides by being utterly true to his vision, and he does it his way. Halfway through the album, things lighten up considerably with "Halfway Home," a jaunty hard-luck tale set to the tune of the Crystals' "Da Doo Ron Ron." Guest players abound, the most striking being a trio of singers Bethany Thomas, Tawny Newsome and Tomi Lunsford who provide a sweet, hard contrast to Langford's ragged bleating. This is a complex album, the kind that rewards repeated listenings with new revelations.