Rhythm & Views

Jon Langford

Modestly produced with members of the Pine Valley Cosmonauts, Jon Langford's 1998 solo debut, Skull Orchard, was an intensely personal collection of observations about his native Wales. After 20 years with the soulful punk Mekons, and a half-dozen more with the ravaging Waco Brothers and the history-plumbing Cosmonauts, not to mention an entire other career as a visual artist, Skull Orchard revealed a profoundly thoughtful side to Langford's famously rambunctious, satiric energy, which seems to be driven almost entirely by his rage at the status quo.

Contrastingly and symbolically lavish, Gold Brick is a Skull-Orchard-like take on America, Langford's adopted home since the early '90s. Similarly, Gold Brick focuses on what hope might be found in individuals taking responsibility for and within their circumstances. Gold Brick songs rest on parallel themes: America's iconic pursuit of consumption at all costs, and the misadventures of discovery as represented by New World explorers. Langford's perception of the latter can be summed up in a notion from "Lost in America," which he wrote for NPR's This American Life: "(Columbus) thought he was in the East Indies / but he was lost in America."

Ocean voyages provide metaphors throughout, but the most compelling, and telling, production is delivered via a Procol Harum cover: "A Salty Dog." Weary-voiced Gary Brooker could never have imagined such a grand sweep to his song. Langford's passionate and powerful reading is set in majestic, movie-soundtrack instrumentation that saturates the never-more-timely story with genuine hope.

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