Hot on the heels of 2010's Destroyer Of The Void, Blitzen Trapper return in September with new record, American Goldwing. It's less musically dense than previous efforts and jettisons some of the bands quirky charm along the way. But if you're looking for an affectionate homage to sun drenched seventies west coast rock, you've definitely come to the right place.
'Might Find It Cheap' opens album number 6 bombastically, with fuzzy guitars battling with cascading melodies and catchy bass lines. It's a slice a pure Americana country rock served up without any irony. "This boy is where your heart should be", Eric Earley sings as he delivers a warning to an unnamed woman. Perhaps this type of feel good fare is where Blitzen Trapper's heart should be too. It's obvious that the straight up approach to this classic rock material, minus many of the extra bells and whistles we've come to expect from the Portland band, has reinvigorated their sound.
'Fletcher' carries on the nostalgia, "Old Fletcher's in the car, drinking whiskey from a jar through his teeth", it's comfortably like Lynyrd Skynyrd with a piano at its core propelling the track forward. The first sign of something a little more heartfelt is 'Love The Way You Walk Away', with its booze soaked protagonist showing some kind of regret ("I'm letting you down tonight, and it ain't right"). Hidden amongst the rich instrumentation here are a banjo and the hint of on old FM tuner trying to find a station.
Elsewhere 'My Home Town' showcases vocal harmonies and a prominent harmonica that even Dylan would be proud of. Earley also establishes a more world-weary voice on 'Girl In A Coat', "Been caught, I've been shot, I've been buried alive, but that's nothing compared to the look in her eyes". Even though the track is more laid back and contemplative, it still evokes the same familiar 70's country rock themes.
'Astronaut' uses slightly more obscure references to create a character whose isolation is backed with a lush musical landscape of slide guitars and strings. The heavier rock elements aren't far away though with crunching guitar solos making 'Street Fighting Sun' a high point of the album. Thematically 'Stranger In A Strange Land' makes sense as the closing track. Although its sparse instrumentation and melancholic piano don't seem to bring this record to a triumphant end, it does encapsulate the themes of lost love and life on the road that can be found throughout. It sounds like one of the most personal tracks on the record too, with Earley seemingly in a reminiscent mood: "Yourself a stranger in a stranger place, with your beat up shoes and an old suitcase, and a wristwatch that don't ever seem to tell the time".
American Goldwing is much like its motorcycle namesake, vintage, but still relevant. It's themed as a classic rock record, but it may just help Blitzen Trapper to make a leap forward. The approach here as compared to their earlier albums is refreshing, although ultimately less exciting at times.