Too Slim and the Taildraggers - Free Your Mind
11 songs; Time 52:01; Library Quality Style: American Roots Music
“When will I EVER learn to keep my big, fat mouth SHUT? Yep, I told the straight, harsh truth. And, I won the battle, ....... but I lost the war!” These words are spoken, at some point, by everyone who is in a successful long term relationship – of any variety: lovers, spouses, bosses, workmates, children, band mates. Most everyone knows this concept. But, how many can create lyrics and music to express it in a great song?
That is where half of the genius of Tim “Too Slim” Langford comes in. “Bottle It Up” is the title that succinctly (and politely) summarizes that “just shut up” idea. The lyrics (thoughtfully included in the CDs nicely presented package) read, “You make me just want to yell and scream / The world you live in is a fantasy / Someday I hope that you will wake up from your dream / And join us in reality.” Implication: the offender needs a good telling off, but we know who will get “burned” in the end.
The other half of Langford’s genius is setting those lyrics to music led by his legendary guitar work. Across Langford’s career, imaginative guitar playing and distinctive tones on electric guitar, slide, and acoustic stake his claim as a master guitarist currently with rising recognition. On first listen to “Bottle It Up,” I told Too Slim, “I hear Beatles tones in there.” In an interview, Slim revealed, “The guitar playing is George Harrison slide style all the way. It’s “All Things must Pass” era - one of my favorite albums of all time.”
“Free Your Mind” is Too Slim and the Taildraggers’ 10th studio album since 1988. Its eleven original songs are a slice of American roots music, with influences from Blues, Americana and Rock. By 2003’s “Tales of Sin and Redemption,” Too Slim and his changing rhythm section, The Taildraggers, have truly created an eclectic style that has become a genre all its own allowing them to easily cross-over and appeal to audiences of various musical tastes.
For this outing, Too Slim sang lead and played Les Paul Supreme, Reverend, and Stratocaster guitars, the bass was handled by Dave Nordstrom, Rudy Simone drummed, background vocalists were Pamela and Paula Mattioli, and co-producer Todd Smallwood added Hammond organ and 12-string guitar on the recording, too.
For the fist time ever on a Too Slim album, another singer did lead vocals: Lauren Evans sang the last cut, a personal “prayer of sorts,” titled “The Light.” Slim revealed, “I had to let Lauren sing this one. I had written it way before I met her, and when I heard her voice, I just knew this song belonged to her. She has a gospel background, and she takes it to the church! [Call it] divine intervention.”
The CD's first track, "When You Love Somebody," launches off the pad by marrying the heartland rock of John Cougar Mellencamp with the southern rock influences of Lynyrd Skynyrd for a kick-ass opening. It is actually a love song; a “love song to my sweet [wife] Nancy,” Slim shared. I have known Tim Langford for 14 years, and I can testify that despite all the “takers” he has unfortunately met, he manages to keep love in his heart.
Opening with some deft single string picking, “Last Train” was written, after [Slim] read the Seattle Times one day. “All the lyrics are from subjects of different articles that day, and there was some crazy sh*t!” he explained. Slim compares society’s unreasonable excesses as the “last train, with cracks in the wheels” about to jump the tracks, and “Hunter S. Thompson is the engineer!”
With Southern Rock soaring guitars, “Devil in a Doublewide” is Too Slim’s take on the sad meth epidemic.
The guitar hooks and slide on the title track “Free Your Mind” are as catchy as cats on mice. “Everybody can relate to that time when you did not have a care in the world (“life is better when you don't have a care!”). Sometimes you got to reach back and hold on to that memory and re-inject it into your life as it is today,” says Langford. “Pour yourself a cold one” and “try everything before you get old.”
“Testament” testifies to Langford’s maturing as both a man and songwriter. Over layers of haunting guitars, Slim shared, “It’s a prayer of sorts. I wrote this whole song in about half an hour! Divine intervention!” Some of the influence seems to have come from the extremely harsh winter Seattle had this year.
Slim plays some of his patent killer slide guitar mid-song on a tune about perseverance, “Been Through Hell” - to get a little heaven.” Slim’s philosophy here, “Sometimes you got to go through some sh*t to get to the good stuff. Keep your head up and don't take things for granted.”
More maturity is found in “Peace with the Maker,” Slim’s take on the crossroads and making a deal with the Devil. Scolding guitar encourages responsibility for actions taken, and the chorus reminds one to make “peace with the Maker.”
“Throw Me a Rope” – “This is a song about wondering who your real friends are. Nobody knows you when you are down and out, right? If you could rescue me, would you try?” Some of the best uplifting guitar is found here in the middle solo.
Both humor and pathos are found in “This Phone.” A “lovesick and lonesome” man continually “stares at This Phone,” thinking that if he stares “long enough, it just might ring.” “I wrote this song a long time ago when I was courting my sweet wife Nancy. Cell phone service was not as good back then!” said Slim.
There may be a time to keep you mouth shut, but concerning “Free Your Mind,” this is not the time. Say it loudly, say it proudly, Too Slim and the Taildraggers rock!
Reviewer James “Skyy Dobro” Walker is
a noted Blues writer, DJ and Blues Blast contributor. His weekly
radio show “Friends of the Blues” can be heard each Thursday from
4:30 – 6:00pm on WKCC 91.1 FM in Kankakee, IL