Charles Latham writes to get under your skin. On "Burn, Burn, Burn"—the opener to his third full-length, Beltline—he bemoans the boring life of boring folks having boring kids who grow up to do boring things. Over Beltline's nine tracks, he cracks on double chins, the missionary position, Biblical names, war barons and 30-year-old men crying in their bibs beside Golden Corral buffets. If you're worried Latham's songwriting may offend you, you're probably right.
But that's how he wants it, you see—for you to take his disparaging rhymes between "punch that clock" and "because God gave you a cock" too seriously, too walk-away affronted and upset, thereby proving his point. But, if you don't, the true charms of what Latham does become clear. Latham would be condescending if he wasn't poking fun at everyone, himself included. He's not without his faults, and his admissions of guilt help keep his acerbic tendencies in balance. Latham confesses to sell-out fantasies in "Rich Girls," confiding "We have nothing in common/ But it's not a problem/ We both love spending her father's money." On "Whiskey Morning Song," he slips alcohol into his coffee cup on his way to the grocery store with his girlfriend. By the end of the song, he's looking at his self-portrait in toilet water, hating that he does this. Maybe you've never been here before, but perhaps you know what it's like to regret something about yourself. Latham does.
Thematically, Beltline is nothing new for Latham, who has spent his career as a songwriter maiming machismo with wit, corroding quotidian tendencies with cynicism and calling out dirty politicians with incredulity (last year's "The Internet Sexual Predator Talking Blues," about Mark Foley, is a classic.) Still, even though Latham may resist the claim that he's developing as an arranger since he wears his anti-folk badge like a talisman, he is doing just that: "Suck It Up," with the Wigg Report's Stephen Mullaney supporting on drums, moves more than any previous Latham song, and "Whiskey Morning Song" buries long rests between its verses, smartly letting the listener get nervous about the song ending without resolution. Instead, he fesses up to the secret (just not to her) for the wave: "No one needs to know/ least of all, you."
Charles Latham plays a CD release party at Local 506 Friday, June 22, with Bowerbirds, Midtown Dickens and Billy Sugarfix at 9 p.m. Tickets are $6. [Full disclosure: Bowerbirds are on music editor Grayson Currin's record label, Burly Time Records.]