Music Review: Luke Winslow-King, Everlasting Arms

Published on October 10th, 2014 in: Current Faves, Music, Music Reviews, Reviews |

By Melissa Bratcher

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New Orleans transplant Luke Winslow-King is spreading his ever so creative wings and trying a new musical direction. Sort of. Not every song on his new album Everlasting Arms hews to his faithful reproductions of pre-war, deep South music (though those are the best tracks), and he tries on some rockabilly pants and samba beats for size. The results are mixed.

What Luke Winslow-King does well, besides creating a bygone era jazzy vibe, is play slide guitar. He is a brilliant slide guitarist. On Everlasting Arms, he takes his playing to another level, past the throwback stylings that he is known for, and pulls it into the present. His playing on “The Crystal Water Springs” is bluesy, but also a bit psychedelic, with layers of reverby guitars. It sounds more than a little like a Brian Jonestown Massacre track. What doesn’t work as well is “Last Night I Dreamed My Birthday.” The issue with that song, though, is the oddly prominent drum sound that makes it sound too modern. It’s a melancholy track, and the guitar sound is great, but it just doesn’t land well. It’s kind of a mess.

The songs that work well work amazingly well. The title track, with washboard playing and sweet harmonies by his new wife, Esther Rose, is a delightful beginning with a chorus that riffs off a hymn. The laid back New Orleans stroll of “Levee Man” showcases Winslow-King’s warm croon. Clarinet and trumpet add local color, and a little ragtime piano is a nice touch. “Graveyard Blues” begins simply with piano and Winslow-King’s voice, then he is joined in harmony by Esther Rose. The opening is stunning, and if it had stayed so simple, it would have been haunting (not much of a pun intended). As it goes, when the muted horns and slide guitar chime in, it’s still a fine song, it just could have been eerier. The final chorus, though, is a knockout.

Everlasting Arms is notable for Winslow-King going off on a rockabilly tear. “Swing That Thing” rocks flat out with a clarion call of a guitar riff and kitchen sink percussion. It’s a risky departure for him, but it pays off. “Cadillac Slim” also rocks, this time with a Diddleyesque shuffle. The lyrics are autobiographical about a “Yankee boy livin’ in New Orleans, living down there with my Yankee Queen.” It’s a little chaotic with choruses of voices in the background and the sax player playing a seemingly unrelated solo. “Domino Sugar” could have been lifted directly from the Stones. It’s a sweet (I’m full of puns, you know) love song where his slide guitar is perfectly fitted.

“La Bega’s Carousel” is another brave choice, with a samba beat played on timbales. It’s a slice of charming tropicalia with fine harmonies from Winslow-King and Esther Rose. She takes the lead vocals on the duet “Wanton Way Of Living.” Her voice, while pure, is a bit thin and childlike. She makes an interesting counter to his husky, warmer tones. The fiddle makes the song sound firmly rooted in the low country.

Everlasting Arms is an adventurous record for Luke Winslow-King. The songs that are of Winslow-King’s usual, traditional (New Orleans) style are the ones that work the best. They’re relaxed and natural. The rockers are interesting, but lack swagger. They’re fine, they’re just subdued. To not change, though, is to not grow, and Luke Winslow-King is too talented to not grow.

Everlasting Arms was released on September 30 by Bloodshot Records.

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