California country man Langston has seven previous albums to his credit dating back to 2000. Hope You’re Happy Now is the latest and he has noted that each album, for a variety of reasons, tends come out differently. This one was inspired by Willie Nelson’s album Phases and Stages. Previous albums had more of a Bakersfield Telecaster twang, but on this album Langston wanted to explore the darker side of relationships in a similar way to Willie’s album.
He expanded the selection of musicians he worked with on previous albums, drawing on such LA scene notables as steel guitarist Chris Lawrence. The main lead guitarist was Johnny Hawthorn, who also contributed some lap steel and Hawthorn deserves much credit for his understated playing here. In truth all those involved do a fine job of serving the songs. Hope You’re Happy Now was recorded directly to tape and captures the spontaneity which is often lost with layered computer tracking and overdubbing.
Although Langston’s songs are dealing with the downside of relationships they are, at times, not without a little humour; try I Work Too Hard as an example that has a lighter side to its relevant points. Lyrically the songs are full of poignant moments that are drawn from life and experience, the kind of stuff that makes for good country music; subjects that are easy to empathise with and highlight the notion that country is the reverse side of the blues coin. Langston’s vocals throughout are compelling and strong, covering the different settings of the songs from the stripped back guitar and vocal of The Trigger, a song that leaves you in doubt just what the title refers to. Born to Ride in contrast, makes effective use of the full band to give the song a tight dynamic with keyboards and some greasy guitar.
Two songs that close the album are self-centred stories of relationships. One relationship that survives despite itself is Me and the Misses, which finds disparate characters coming from opposite viewpoints who find common ground despite their opposing attitudes; it has an inherent realistic charm. The final song, Me And Margaret in contrast, is about a couple who are on the same page, or bar stool at least and is a song best summed up by the line: “real drinking takes persistence and me and Margaret are the best”.
This was, surprisingly, my first encounter with Langston’s music other than a quick online check of some of his previous albums - which sound pretty fine to me. However, Hope You’re Happy Now is a highpoint for Langston with his players adding a layer of subtlety and consideration that makes for repeated listening.
Along with David Serby (who formed the California Roots Union with Langston), Dave Gleason, Mike Stinson and Sam Outlaw, Grant Langston is part of a resurgence of acts playing some real and diverse country music in California right now. They are part of a proud tradition that stretches back to Bakersfield, The Palomino and beyond and one that is also getting an added boost by the recent recordings and performances of longtime leading light Dwight Yoakam. I hope you’re happy now.