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Where did this out-of-place record come from? It’s not right to call Laughing Man’s The Lovings (63-69) a throwback, but if the title doesn’t tell you that its vibe is distinctly pre-21st century, then the transistor-radio production should do it. The years in the title might offer insight: That was the period in which Lightin’ Hopkins, whose stamp you can hear throughout The Lovings, was finally recognized for his jarring revivalist folk music. Or perhaps those temporal markers reference Virginians Milfred and Richard Loving, the interracial couple whose marriage brought about the 1967 Supreme Court decision ending anti-miscegenation laws. After all, it was the convergence of different races and traditions that brought about some of the most exciting moments in rock history. Wherever The Lovings comes from, its blues rock has nothing to do with modern practitioners like The Black Keys. In fact, Laughing Man rarely ratchets up the “rock” or culls old Muddy Waters licks for inspiration. The D.C. band takes a backwoods-blues aesthetic, replete with minor sevenths, and pushes it into eerie, otherworldly territory. There are unexpected horn-laden moments and strange melodic excursions, but the record mostly revolves around stripped-down guitar-bass-drums arrangements, like a Leadbelly record teased for its most surreal possibilities. The strongest and strangest moments belong to Brandon Moses, who shouts and moans and anchors the project with a distorted but soulful vibrato: His vocals can sound strangled, but they’re deeply full of life. But Moses also contributes the album’s most difficult-to-swallow element: wiry, scratchy guitar playing. At times, the style sinks in perfectly with the odd, bluesy compositions, but elsewhere, like on “Already Always,” the intentionally abrasive strumming can be difficult to bear. Thankfully, it never lasts long.
Though the end result bares little resemblance to a band like TV On The Radio, Laughing Man is another example of a black songwriter mining the depths of soul and blues for a more contemporary, adventurous rock setting. It’s a fresh sound, rooted in history, that’s well-schooled in American music and ignores formal restrictions. If only The Lovings didn’t also feel, at a mere seven songs, like an unfinished statement.
LAUGHING MAN PERFORMS AT THE SOCKETS RECORDS SHOWCASE AT 9 P.M. SATURDAY, JAN. 15 AT THE BLACK CAT, 1811 14TH ST. NW. $12. (202) 667-7960.