The inside of Vintage Vinyl is a collage of sound, color and musical artifacts. Bins of records and CDs line the walls and fill the center of the room, constricting any movement from one side of the shop to the other. Layers of posters, T-shirts and signs ornament the pale pink walls and ceiling. Such liveliness appearance betrayed the cold, rainy day beyond the doors as well as the serious voice and mild manners of Tim Larson’s performance Saturday afternoon to the cramped interior.
“We’re going to play a couple songs. Is that all right?” Larson quietly asks a dozen or so customers rifling through vinyl and CDs. The singer-songwriter performed at the Davis Street record store in honor of Record Store Day, an unofficial worldwide holiday celebrating independent record stores and the music they sell.
A New Deal, Larson’s new album with his band The Owner Operators was released on April 15. It is a collection of songs for the down-and-out in today’s economy. Larson, himself a union asphalt worker from Chicago, wrote the songs about the economic downturn and its effects on blue collar workers.
It’s a shame that an album with such a fresh and relevant theme doesn’t sound as such. Too many layers of instruments muddle the impact and cause a genre identity crisis. Is it country, folk or rock? Luckily, the limited space in Vintage Vinyl only allowed for Larson, his guitar and drummer Tommy Henry. The stripped-back set gave the songs the chance to speak for themselves.
In a live performance, Larson’s skill as a songwriter shines through. The first of his six-song set is “Own To Rent,” which gives the mortgage crisis a human face with heartbreaking lyrics like “more habitat now than home.” Larson also played “I Went Down Swinging,” a song from his 2007 solo album No Weapons, No Allies. With “I had a good run and my debts are all paid, I went down swinging, I went down in flames” as the chorus, he jokes that it’s the happiest song he’s ever written. “Merit Worker” describes union workers taking non-union jobs in order to survive, while “A New Deal” is a dissatisfied protest song about waiting for help and affirming that survival is the new American dream.
Larson and Henry’s cheerful banter with audience members helps to balance the atmosphere. Larson apologizes if he seems distracted, but The Walker Brothers section keeps catching his eye and he wants to look through their records. While retuning for his last two songs, he asks everyone in the room what they’re buying and Henry offers Robert Palmer to anyone who can’t reach them because his drum is in the way. It’s a nice metaphor for their music — they just want people’s lives to be easier.