Review

Langhorne Slim started out as a solo act before he worked his way up to a pair of accompanists, but it would seem he's gotten over the whole notion of minimal accompaniment on his third full-length album, Be Set Free. Produced by Chris Funk of the Decemberists, Be Set Free features Langhorne and his usual sidekicks Jeff Ratner on bass and Malachi DeLorenzo on drums, but there's also a wealth of guest musicians, most notably Sam Kassirer on a variety of keyboards, Funk taking on a handful of fretted instruments, and a small battalion of backing vocalists, horn players, and string musicians. Be Set Free sounds significantly more polished than Langhorne's previous studio sessions, with the arrangements and additional accompanists bringing a range of dynamics to the melodies that wasn't quite there before (certainly not on this scale), but even though this album sounds like Cinemascope compared to the more modest framings of Langhorne's previous LPs, the additional colors and patterns have been artfully applied and they serve to add to the tenor of his tunes rather than distracting from them; if this album was conceived on a (relatively) grand scale, it's never overdone. For all the imagination of the arrangements and production, Be Set Free is still clearly designed to honor Langhorne's songwriting, and the charm and passionate honesty of his lyrics are still at the root of these performances, with the arrangements reinforcing the passion of his vocals instead of drowning them out. (Langhorne also sounds more expert and sure of himself as a vocalist than ever before.) Be Set Free isn't a game-changing album so much as it confirms that Langhorne Slim's talent can work within a wider framework than he's used in the past and still honor his gifts, and it's an impressive, pleasurable work. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

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