The Verdict Is in: People vs. Larsen Plays Some of Today’s Most Innovative Blues Music
People vs. Larsen’s new album, Loving Losing, is the second release by blues guitarist/vocalist Tom Larsen, bassist Dylan Shamat and drummer Dave Tedeschi since they arrived in Brooklyn in 2009 and found “a network of support” that Larsen says, “has been a really beautiful and enriching aspect of my life.” He finds Brooklyn to be a great place for nurturing new talent because, “You don’t get that cramped feeling of living in Manhattan, which can make some artists feel claustrophobic and unproductive,” Larsen tells Brooklyn Roads.
“Of course New York City is one of the largest cultural centers in the world, but in Brooklyn you end up with more local scenes in different neighborhoods that have their own vibe. So for artists, I think it makes for a comfortable and fruitful environment,” he says.
Larsen developed an affinity for the blues at an early age.
“When I was a kid,” he tells Brooklyn Roads, “I listened to my older brother’s CDs, which were mostly hip-hop,” including Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Jay Z, the Staten Island-Brooklyn conglomerate Wu-Tang Clan and New Jersey’s Fugees. Although he says he never stopped listening to hip-hop, Larsen began gravitating toward the blues after learning gospel music in church as a kid. But what sealed the deal for the budding guitarist happened on a family trip to Chicago at age 11.
“My aunt gave me a blues compilation with Buddy Guy on the first track. The song was ‘Damn Right I Got the Blues,’ and when I came back home I started jamming along to it and began trying to copy the licks,” he says. “He was the first guitar player that really heavily influenced me. I would love to play with him someday.” Another influence that he says changed his life at age 12 was discovering Jimi Hendrix, who himself was a disciple of Buddy Guy.
“After the first time I heard ‘Voodoo Chile (Slight Return),’ I decided that I wanted to be a [professional] guitar player. I know that sounds really cliché, but it’s the truth,” Larsen tells us.
While blues is the basis of People vs. Larsen’s music, “We like to incorporate elements from other genres,” Larsen says. “We want to have our own sound that comes from the blues [and] we always want to maintain that element of soul and passion.” And People vs. Larsen has succeeded in doing just that.
Their self-title inaugural album breathed new life into several Mississippi Delta and Chicago blues staples. The group’s new sophomore outing on One Trick Dog Records, Loving Losing, sees Larsen flexing his songwriting muscles, contributing several original tunes that complement such diverse covers as blues legend Willie Dixon’s ”I Tried to Quit You Baby” and indie pop darling Leslie Feist’s “There’s a Limit to Your Love.” The standout title track/single includes the line, “time goes by too fast for me” — and we kind of felt that way about the album. Despite a solid 42-plus minutes of innovative, melodic blues, enhanced by occasional organ and brass flourishes, it seemed to end too soon. And that’s as it should be. After all, the adage “always leave them wanting more” pre-dates even the blues.
Brooklyn Roads’ verdict: People vs. Larsen cannot be dismissed as just another blues band. But we suggest you go to YouTube or the group’s website and judge for yourself. Better still, see them live Friday and Saturday nights at The McKittrick Hotel in Chelsea. Yes, that’s in Manhattan, but we think you’ll find it worth the trip.