“Oh, baby can you save me/’Cause there ain’t much time for me to be wrong”
- “Save Me”
Daryl Hall describes his Verve Music Group solo album, Laughing Down Crying, the fifth in his illustrious career as part of the #1 best-selling duo in record industry history, as a “retrospective… a box set of my mind from all eras of my music.
Indeed, the album, co-produced by Daryl with long-time collaborators Paul Pesco and Greg Bieck, including the last recordings with his musical director T-Bone Wolk, offers a textbook of the various influences incorporated into his own music for over the years, and also some new flavors.
The title track even shows a little bit of country twang, with Daryl copping to the fact much of the album was written on guitar, rather than keyboard, and in this case, a Fender Telecaster that lent it that air.
The rest of Laughing Down Crying shows off Daryl Hall’s musical roots, from the R&B style of “Eyes for You,” the organ-drenched gospel call-and-response of “Save Me,” the ‘80s pop-soul MTV flash of “Talking to Myself,” the horn-driven southern funk of “Message to Ya” and the Red Ledge-styled apocalyptic prog-rock of “Get Out of the Way” to the swampy, blues feel of ‘Problem with You,” the last song he ever recorded with T-Bone, who died of a massive heart attack just three hours later. It is one of three songs on the album featuring Wolk, and includes just him on guitar and Daryl singing.
“T-Bone played what I feel is the best guitar performance he’s ever done on record,” says Daryl. “It was magnificent, and three hours later, he was gone. That was an unbelievable shock. It completely threw the whole recording process into chaos. He was my real friend and partner. And, for a while, I was lost without him.”
With its contradictory, bittersweet title, Laughing Down Crying is what Daryl calls an album “about transition,” a meditation on going from isolation into a committed relationship with the hope and heartache involved. During the past year—while putting together the album, his first solo project since 2003’s Can’t Stop Dreaming—Daryl’s personal life had been undergoing its own set of changes, including getting married and becoming a stepfather.
“I’ve been amassing song ideas for the past eight-nine years,” says Daryl, whose critically acclaimed first solo album, 1980’s Robert Fripp-produced Sacred Songs, was so experimental and “non-commercial,” a shell-shocked RCA Records refused to release it for three years. He followed with the Dave Stewart-produced 1985 album, Three Hearts in the Happy Ending Machine, then 1993’s Soul Alone.
“Why now?” he asks rhetorically about his first solo album in close to a decade. “Why not now? At this point, I feel like my present and future, in a creative sense, is me.”
Laughing Down Crying shows the emotional side that we’ve come to expect from Daryl’s music.
“I wear my heart on my sleeve,” he admits. “Nothing held back. There’s been a great deal of intensity over the years, both good and bad. The title describes that feeling of being in two places at once, emotionally wired and depressed, confused and frustrated.”
While Daryl Hall and John Oates have been as hot a concert attraction as ever—recently headlining a sold-out three-night stand at the fabled Hollywood Bowl—Hall has admitted getting a creative boost from his award-winning monthly webcast Live from Daryl’s House, on which he’s collaborated with everyone from legends like Smokey Robinson, Toots Hibbert, the Doors’ Robby Krieger and Ray Manzarek, Nick Lowe, Booker T and Todd Rundgren to hot newcomers Fitz and the Tantrums, Diane Birch, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Mayer Hawthorne, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and Canadian techno-rockers Chromeo.
Daryl freely admits working on the show inspired his recording method.
“No question Daryl’s House has changed my life. I’ve always loved collaboration, what happens when you get together in a room to write or play, for the first time, without any preparation. It’s like a great blind date. We all have to be on our toes because we don’t know what will happen next. I really tried to take that feeling of seeing things for the first time fresh into making this album. We tried to maintain our spontaneity. The show taught me to step away for a bit, come back and try to look at things through new eyes and objectivity.”
Lyrically, the album walks the line between the emotional and socio-political. “These days, it seems that what happens in the personal world can be taken in a much larger sense.”
That joy, and ambivalence, is very much a part of Laughing Down Crying.
The one-time “Family Man” has actually become one, as he laughingly put it, going from “irony to reality.”
“The last 10 years have been a real transition for me, and this album is just one more step,” he says. “Hopefully, it will open a door to the next step. It describes that journey and what the next room might hold.”
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