A friend in the States introduced us to Blitzen Trapper’s debut album. We gave him Mumford and Sons’ debut in return and for some years we’ve thought he got the better end of the deal. Blitzen Trapper were worthy if not dull, and their second album did little to change our mind.
But this is their ninth studio album and, somewhere along the way, the Oregon band got good. They don’t do anything new — Neil Young, Dire Straits and Bob Dylan already play the various elements of their music — but Blitzen Trapper have developed, and offer a mature and appealing Americana that’s pleasing to listen to.
They sound like a band who know the history of the music they play and are really into being musicians.
The difference from their early work is clear from the opener Rebel, a confident song that rolls with the rhythm of good Tom Petty and mentions Johnny and June Cash in the first verse.
The title track opens like an acoustic, bluesy Neil Young song (as does Stolen Hearts) before the band comes in and it all goes a bit Springsteen; there’s more of the Springsteen sound with Joanna, a quiet acoustic tune reminiscent of Nebraska.
It’s all good but standout is probably the uptempo No Man’s Land, which opens with weird taped/looped speech fragments but after some early-ELO style strings livens up considerably, with fine guitar licks.
The lyrics to No Man’s Land represent the feel of the album, too: “We were three sheets to the wind / And a row boat on the river / Tradin’ tall tales of the western world” it goes, with the chorus featuring the great lines: “If you ever want to know about no man’s land / Take a ride with the woman in the black Trans Am,” which is both meaningless and portentous.
The bluesy When I’m Dying is also good. Closer Wind Don’t Always Blow is a bit Wilco.
It’s a very American album, easy on the ear and combining the slick country rock of The Eagles with a more rootsy DIY feel. Definitely an album you will play over and over.
Go wild and reckless: