[TRUE FOLK ROCK] Lewi Longmire has been around the block a few times. In 2008, he traced his musical "family tree" for WW and the result was a vast spider web of connections: Longmire has played with Little Sue, I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House, Jackie O Motherfucker and Victoria Williams, to name a few disparate projects. His own releases are fewer and farther between, and despite the widespread respect of his peers, most locals know him best as "that guy with the beard who plays in every band in town."
Longmire's influences are just as hard to pin down: To call the Lewi Longmire Band's third LP, Tales of the Left Coast Roasters, a roots or Americana release is to disregard just how much those endless side projects have colored Longmire's palette. From "Darkest Night," a mourning-tinged take on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' classic sound, and the ambitious, Neil Young-inspired "El Dorado" (about a suicidal friend and the impact his death has on a community) to the bluesy "Save Yourself" and the early Beatles-style opener "At Least in My Mind," the Longmire Band covers most of rock's bases.
But it's when Longmire lets his folk and bluegrass roots show that the LaurelThirst regular is at his strongest. "The Ballad of Sweet Marie," while a tad lyrically precious and sepia-toned in a way that some folk-overexposed Portlanders avoid, is a masterfully played ballad that finds Longmire nodding to Dylan and setting heartbreak against bright, traditional instrumentation.
"Vanport 1948" stands out as the album's most striking track. In tackling the historic Multnomah County flood, the singer-songwriter is dredging up a dark chapter in local history that saw much of our region's black community permanently displaced. In a ballsy move, Longmire tackles the song in the first person. It's worth the gamble. "They sent men from the government to investigate/ But the commissioner's in the pocket, and the agents are on the take," he sings, embittered but rational against rollicking roots accompaniment. "What care they for a black man whose family lost his home/ When the wolves or the water's at your door they make you stand alone." That kind of historical balladeering hasn't been popular since guys named Guthrie and Ochs roamed the earth, but Longmire's passionate delivery (and his cooking bandmates) make the history lesson modern and compelling. It also makes this vinyl-only release worth picking up.
Of course, Longmire's band has no trouble finding its sound throughout the LP (and noted local producer Adam Selzer can take some credit for that). Longmire's songwriting—his voice—shines to a surprising extent on this latest disc. That voice is both uniquely Portland and uniquely Longmire—if those two words aren't synonymous by now.