Jon Langford shifts musical gears as effortlessly as a European race car driver on a Grand Prix course. Looking at the totality of his career (The Mekons, Waco Brothers, Skull Orchard, the Three Johns, Wee Hairy Beasties, Pine Valley Cosmonauts, Bad Luck Jonathan, God knows what else), it hardly seems as though one peg could have fit into all those oddly shaped holes, and yet Langford has managed to make each entity unique based on his own singular input and the influences of the people joining him on each fascinating ride. Let's not even get into his art, production and session career.
Langford's latest, his first since 2014's "Here Be Monsters," was birthed when he met legendary bassist Norbert Putnam two years ago at the Country Music Hall of Fame's installation of the Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats exhibit, for which Langford had provided artwork. A longtime fan of his creative endeavors, Putnam invited Langford to record in the heart of the Muscle Shoals crucible and so, in November 2016, in the shadow of the contentious election, Langford and a murderer's row of musical talent (including Swampers David Hood and Randy McCormick, pedal steeler Pete Finney, and angelic vocalists Bethany Thomas, Tawny Newsome and Tomi Lunsford, among others) produced "Four Lost Souls" in four days.
The album starts off in fairly traditional yet completely atypical country territory with "Poor Valley Radio," a patented twisted Langford tale of woe and dented redemption ("When I die, baby, will you bury me up on a hill, standing upright in a glass coffin..."), which is immediately followed by the soulful Byrdsy jangle of "Natchez Trace" and the B3 hymnal of "I Thought He Was Dead." And so it goes for 45 minutes; a twangy soul sea chanty ("Fish Out of Water"), the Welsh Everly Brothers ("Half Way Home"), a rootsy rocker ("What's My Name?"), a country weeper ("Masterpiece"), political commentary disguised as a Roger Miller novelty ("Snake Behind Glass"). It's all over the place, it's all magnificent, and it's the latest proof that Jon Langford will thankfully never make just one kind of album.