Lathim & Young get ambitious, Nick Lutsko gets Halloweeny
John Lathim & Michelle Young
(Wild Wood Chorus)
To anyone even passingly familiar with the local folk scene in general (and its Celtic subgenre in particular), John Lathim is already a familiar name. The multi-faceted baritone is skilled in a broad range of genres, but is undoubtedly best known for his stirring renditions of traditional Scots-Irish and Appalachian music. With the release of his latest album, Treehouse, Lathim and partner Michelle Young have brought their already considerable talent to a new level.
The most immediately striking feature of this new work is the inclusion of a bevy of studio musicians. The well-polished vocals and guitar of Lathim and Young are accented by the addition of bass, pedal steel guitar, lap steel, fiddle, electric guitar, grand piano, keyboards, banjo and mandolin. The result is a lush tapestry of sound and texture serving as the perfect backdrop to the duo’s beautifully balanced voices. It’s a new take on familiar favorites. The transition is comparable to that of Richard Thompson, who seems as at ease with a mic and a guitar as a full band.
Not for nothing has Lathim’s vocal style been compared to Gordon Lightfoot and one wonders if that was a motivator for including the classic Lightfoot B-side, “The House You Live In.” Whatever comparison suits you best, the result is that Lathim and Young are worthy emissaries of an era when pop folk was king.
Thirteen tracks comprise this album, including delightful, Garrison Keillor-esque tunes like “Inches & Miles” and the titular “Treehouse.” “Blazes Blues” is, as you might suspect, a blues tune, but something more like classic country blues than the Mississippi Delta or Chicago style, while the harmonica-laden “Down Along the Cove,” a Bob Dylan cover, sounds more like a Glen Campbell gem. Lathim and Young, already recognized for being among the best at what they do, have raised the bar for themselves and their fans with Treehouse, easily their most ambitious project to date.
Nightmare Before Halloween
Halloween may have come and gone all too quickly, but it’s not too early to pick up Nick Lutsko’s latest project in anticipation of next year. Lutsko, the whiz kid musician and master of…puppets…who seems intent on dominating the local music scene with one interesting thing after another is that rarest of beasts, the artist who can pretty much do whatever he pleases while still retaining the love and loyalty of his fans. The secret is phenomenal talent and a great ear. This latest project, a loving tribute to Danny Elfman’s Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack, breathes new life in to an old classic in a way that would make Elfman proud.
Where Marilyn Manson basically Marilyn Mansoned his version of “This is Halloween,” Lutsko takes a much more considerate and thoughtful approach, remaining faithful to the original while somehow managing to reinterpret it. It’s no mere cover of an album; it’s a completely alternative take that jibes so well with the original as to be practically interchangeable while still being utterly fresh and now. I realize that seems like a paradox, but that’s what it is.
In the first place, Lutsko already has the classic Oingo Boingo vibe in his repertoire and, minus the huge horn section, that is what he brings to bear here. His version of “Oogie Boogie’s Song” sounds like it came straight out of the Forbidden Zone, right down to the guitar tone. The same can be said for “Kidnap the Sandy Claws.” It’s not all Mystic Knights stuff, however. “Jack’s Lament” takes a page from the Beatles, or at least George Harrison, with its finger-picked descending progression.
It’s a bold move to tackle a piece of work that has become a beloved part of pop culture. One wrong note or misinterpretation and the fans and true believers will pillory you mercilessly, but Lutsko never worried, nor did he need to. His take on this now classic piece was obviously crafted with great care and respect for the source material and its creator. That, combined with his prodigious talent, is why I have to give this album my highest recommendation.
Simply put, if there’s any love in your heart for the original, you MUST own this.