It’s not often that a debut album not only introduces us to a fab new emerging vocal and songwriting talent, but also the crackling, steel guitar vibes of two bands that should have been on our radar long before. So while we’re immersing in the sensual/seductive yet plain-spoken, emotionally confessional power and soul-stirring magic of Sarah Lee Langford on her dazzling, rhythmically varied trad country/Americana debut Two Hearted Rounder, we get a homegrown double bonus.
That comes via her backing band of what her promo materials call a “gang of Birmingham’s greasiest rockers,” the Dexateens (around since 1998) and Vulture Whale (who released their debut album in 2007). The connections all make sense when you consider that Langford is the latest signee to Cornelius Chapel Records, which the Dexateens launched in 2013 and whose roster also includes southern indie rockers Vulture Whale.
Despite the often sizzling, laid back and twangy when appropriate backing they provide, it’s clear that Langford’s soulful vocal purity and overall heart, grit and searing honesty would come across brilliantly even on a scratchy demo without all the boisterous, snappy guitar-driven polish. In a time when modern country is all about slick, pop/rock bromances and beer-washed weekends, Langford’s hip yet throwback style of writing and singing is a transcendent blessing.
Since she paved the way for the album’s release by gracing us with three focal singles, those would be the best places to enter the overall insightful, impactful experience of the album as a whole. “Two Hearted Rounder” is a heartfelt, plain spoken ballad that sets her on a barstool contemplating a shift in her heart’s gears, trading one heartache for the potential of another. When she says she won’t play second fiddle, she’s asserting that the next time will be different.
This kind of real deal optimism bleeds over to the next single, the rollicking, clickety clacker “Growing Up,” which finds her offering hope beyond the heartache by embracing the hard times head on and not running from her problems. Langford created a compelling video for the laid back, swaying ballad “Big Women” that finds her transforming from welder to made up woman on the town to convey a unique duality that men may find intimidating but shouldn’t.