Album of the Week: Bruce Langhorne’s The Hired Hand (1971)

In 1971, the actor Peter Fonda, to whom [Bruce] Langhorne was introduced by [Hugh] Masekela, invited Mr. Langhorne to compose the music for his movie “The Hired Hand,” an austere soundtrack that featured banjo, fiddle and acoustic guitar… Not suited to the pace of Hollywood, to which he relocated from New York in the late ’60s, Mr. Langhorne moved to Hawaii in 1980 to farm macadamia nuts. He returned to Los Angeles in 1985 and, in 1992, learned that he had Type 2 diabetes. His diagnosis inspired him to create Brother Bru-Bru’s Hot Sauce, an organic, low-sodium salsa. -New York Times obituary, 2017

Two years before his directorial debut The Hired Hand, Peter Fonda starred in the classic road-trip film Easy Rider (Fonda was also credited as a screenwriter). Easy Rider looked to the future with its psychedelic narrative, unconventional style and countercultural themes. I haven’t seen The Hired Hand, but its soundtrack by Bruce Langhorne is similarly forward-thinking.

Though the obit above suggests that he was a man of many talents, Langhorne is probably best known as a session player for Bob Dylan, appearing on multiple classic Dylan albums. However, The Hired Hand soundtrack bears little resemblance to Dylan’s music. Langhorne’s guitar on “Opening” is repetitive and hypnotic, as violins provide a cheery accompaniment. Percussion is quite sparse on this track, including a very lightly played dulcimer, lending the song an ambient quality. “Riding Thru the Rain” is ominous, with a piano that sounds as dusty as the untamed West depicted in Fonda’s cowboy movie.

The sound on the recording as a whole has an old-school reel-to-reel quality that is gorgeous, yet the music is not dissimilar to what 21st century artists in the cross-section of ambient and country (Scott Tuma and William Tyler come to mind) make. According to boomkat, “Langhorne assembled each piece alongside his girlfriend Natalie Mucyn, who with no prior mixing or editing experience multitracked the recording via some distinctly lo-fi tape dubbing.”

“Ending”, the album’s longest track, has a middle-section with flutes that is stunning. It’s a lovely finish to a strange, moving and all too brief album from an unheralded artist.

Listen to The Hired Hand here.

Album of the Week: LaFace’s Boomerang Soundtrack (1992)

This is an album with Eddie Murphy on the cover. And that’s okay.

I wrote a couple months ago about Babyface’s Tender Lover, and how I adore Face and his music. As half of LaFace, he produced TLC, Toni Braxton and others. Babyface would later write and produce the classic Waiting to Exhale soundtrack, but I believe Boomerang was his first compilation album. I haven’t seen Boomerang the movie, which is a romantic comedy directed by Reginald Hudlin (who wrote and directed Kid N Play’s House Party) starring Eddie Murphy as a Casanova who may have finally met his match! But don’t quote me on that, like I said I haven’t seen it.

7 of the 12 songs on this soundtrack album were written and/or produced by Babyface. These include the smash opener “Give U My Heart”, a Toni Braxton duet with an amazingly 90s music video, Johnny Gill’s silky-smooth “There U Go” (oh!), and “End of the Road” – perhaps Babyface’s biggest hit of all-time. “End of the Road” is a weird one: melodically, it’s cripplingly beautiful. Even a YouTube piano tutorial of this song is enough to make me glassy-eyed. Depending on your tolerance for the saccharine you may or may not be able to endure its minor-key mushiness. But the reason I say it’s weird is because of the lyrics. The guys in Boyz II Men are essentially refusing to accept the ending of a relationship, and there is a spoken section that gets uncomfortably clingy. Let’s not bring that toxic energy into 2022, kings!

I also really like “Reversal of a Dog” by LaFace Cartel, which is essentially a pseudonym for Babyface and TLC. Left Eye does her thing, it’s a banger! Outside of the Babyface tracks, we have a great Aaron Hall and Charlie Wilson collab (shoutout Gap Band!), a P.M. Dawn ballad, a slinky Grace Jones track, a breezy a capella from one Kenny Vaughan, and A Tribe Called Quest’s “Hot Sex”. This track, which also appears on Tribe’s The Anthology compilation (but none of their albums proper) is perhaps most notable for Q-Tip’s “Where ya at!” line – one that’s been sampled many times. It’s not one of Tribe’s greatest songs, but I like the Phife verse a lot.

Excellent album right here. I wonder if Eddie Murphy listens to it. I know if my face were on the cover of a Babyface record it would be my most cherished possession.

Listen to Boomerang here.