The Shape of Country to Come
Everything old is new again. Or, at least a few old country music tropes are, thanks to Blitzen Trapper. The Portland outfit’s new album, VII, is a tightly-paced, gripping take on modern-day country music. There’s plenty to love and precious little to hate here, so let’s get to it.
You’re going to feel a few waves of nostalgia hit you while listening to VII. Relax, it’s perfectly normal. Blitzen Trapper’s just one of those bands that manages to evoke every dusty, twangy-guitared, soulful-voiced band out there. Expect flashbacks to The Eagles, CC and Skynyrd, among others (also a little Marvin Gaye, but we’ll get to that later). On the other hand, this is undeniably fresh material. You’ll notice that with VII, Blitzen Trapper always seems to straddle the line between cliché and innovation-– and they do it with style.
Case in point: lyrics. Eric Earley is a deceptively able songwriter, and what seem like horribly worn out country music tropes often hold some surprising depths. It’s true; listen long enough to Earley’s drawling Jack Daniels fairy tales, and they might start to glaze together into a standard “baby left me, gonna drink” blur, but there’s a bit more at work here. There’s a surprising flare for metaphor, and lines like “So we go up to the turn-pipe / Where the whole world turns to sky / I took her hand, but she drew away / Like a bird getting ready to fly” turn album standout “Ever Loved Once” from a forgettable confessional into a surprisingly potent reflection on lost love.
And don’t think that the instruments behind Earley are any less interesting. VII does a particularly good job of weaving vocal and instrumental sections– again, think Eagles in this case. Some of the weaker moments of the album come when the interplay stops and a song drags just a bit too long, as in the case of “Faces of You,” a haunting track near the end of the album, regrettably strangled by an overlong instrumental outro.
That’s usually not a problem though. Blitzen Trapper is usually intelligent enough to get in, kick ass and get out. “Thirsty Man” makes solid use of a stompy instrumental background, and “Drive On Up” stands out for sheer, unabashedly countrified fun. A couple of unusual tracks give VII some added texture. “Oregon Geography” may sound like a typical fast-talkin’ lament, but the R&B opener, and the continual background sound of rain give it an unusually intimate, spoken word atmosphere. Of course, the following track, classic shitkicker “Neck Tatts and Cadillacs” storms right through it, but it’s nice while it lasts.
In the end you’re looking at an incredibly well crafted album. VII has plenty for everyone; whether you’re looking for a nostalgia trip or a new spin on the tried-and-true, Bitzen Trapper has got you covered.