This Blitzen Trapper article was written by Tim Thackray, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Natalie Whitehouse
At what point do you become a successful band? Three EPs? Eight records? Three record labels? Two live albums? With stats like that we could be talking about a legacy artist about to embark on a tour of your city’s local mega arenas. In this case though, we’re discussing Blitzen Trapper – a band who whose name is more likely to evoke thoughts of a Christmas B-movie rather than top the radio playlists.
The five-piece have been plugging away since 2003 (even longer under the original guise of Garmonbozia) and are certainly not short of critical acclaim (2008 record ‘Furr’ found a place on many a ‘best of’ list) but the alt-country group are no closer to breaking into the widespread consciousness. Of course, the size of the venues you play has never reflected the quality of the music and the fact that Blitzen Trapper are still making music – and pretty great music – together after a decade sounds like a success.
The key to longevity in a music career seems to rely on two things: passion for the thing that you’re creating and being open minded to trying new ideas. Often the two go hand in hand. The Portland-based band have certainly never sat still for too long musically speaking, producing a back catalogue veering from porchside country and Dylan-esque folk to psychedelic and prog rock.
For their eighth record, ‘All Across This Land,’ the group have channelled FM rock across ten tracks that take inspiration from Springsteen, Petty and countless others from the songbook of American drivetime. In contrast to their previous record, which they described as a futuristic hip-hop/country-rock hybrid, it might seem like playing it safe, but Blitzen Trapper always have enough in their pockets to sprinkle proceedings with a little stardust.
Opening with the brilliant ‘All Across This Land,’ a rollicking leather jacket of a song that combines ‘Symphony for the Devil’ style oohs with a chord progression Lynyrd Skynyrd would have been proud of. The band put down the marker that this won’t be your average middle of the road stadium affair. You’ve got to be pretty confident to name one of your tracks ‘Rock and Roll’ and for it not to be a complete failure, but they’ve ticked this box by track two as well.
The wonderful ‘Mystery and Wonder’ follows, an ode to romance over the years, not regretting a thing and how the basics of love don’t really change whether you’re 15 or 29. Later on, ‘Cadillac Road’ takes a more brooding take on the trials and tribulations of everyday life, bringing in a skyscraper piano riff with warm 70’s synths and heartfelt lyrics. Much of Blitzen Trapper’s work has been written by the lead singer Eric Earley and the lyrics on ‘All Across This Land’ leave the listener with a sense of affirmation from a man who sounds like he’s lived through his share of heartbreak and setbacks, but is always looking for a positive somewhere beneath.
Tracks such as ‘Lonesome Angel’ and ‘Let The Cards Fall’ bring more country elements to the table, which can help break up the bravado of the other songs. The latter’s lyrics highlight perhaps one of the reasons behind the group’s lasting presence – “and I know what I know and I do just how I do, so let the cards fall how they will and the prayers be answered through and through”. If Earley has accepted his (and his band’s) place in the world then it affords him the opportunity to sounds completely comfortable and at ease with the music he creates.
The album ends with the beautiful ‘Across The River’ that follows the tale of a man who “left his home and nearly drowned for a glimpse of something few had ever seen.” With its ‘Oh Me Oh My’ chorus it sounds like a classic folk song that should be sung around the dying embers of a camp fire. It’s testament to the group that they can veer from swinging greaser anthems about Cadillacs and Fenders to such poetic and enchanting moments without a jolt of a gear change.
Comfortable in their own skin and baring all to the world album after album, Blitzen Trapper might not sell out your local arena, but they deserve to find a place in your heart.
‘All Across This Land’ is out on the 2nd October via Lojinx.