Review: Blitzen Trapper - American Goldwing

The band Blitzen Trapper has made a pretty good career out of exploring the stranger side of Americana.

With their 2007 album Wild Mountain Nation, they gave us a weird sort of garage rock from outer space. On 2008’s Furr, they delved more into their folk leanings and gave the world a title track that may well be one of the best songs of the 21st century to date.

Not content with that creative and commercial success, in 2010 the band headed directly for the shire and produced a straight up 20-sided die rolling masterpiece of hobbit rock, otherwise known as Destroyer of the Void. A stylistically bold move, Void seemed to embrace every weird musical urge that the band members had ever had. It was raw, fascinating and unexpected. But most of all, it worked. Like gangbusters. In fact the only question left for most after hearing Destroyer of the Void was where the hell the band would go next with its music.

How about 1974?

They’ve always hinted at a deep love for the 70’s. Hell, pretty much everything the band has ever recorded screams it. But they’ve never embraced the decade more so than they do on American Goldwing, and in the process have made the best album of their career.

Big Star, Joe Walsh, Bad Company, Allman Brothers, Faces…you name it, it’s in there. American Goldwing is an album thick with reference points, but like any other Trapper record, it ultimately sounds unlike anything that came before it. By dialing back their inherent (and awesome) weirdness just a touch, the band has slipped into an almost reverent exploration of the music that sits at their very core. I say “almost” because it’s hard to be reverent when you’re one upping the music you love.

With huge swaths of pedal steel and armies of high and lonesome harmonicas to be found absolutely everywhere on this record, Goldwing has country/70’s AM radio all over it. It’s a sound that’s lived in and familiar, but still slightly off. What elevates these songs above being merely sonic history lessons are the lyrics of singer Eric Early. Early has always been a great songwriter, and it’s the combination of his storytelling ability and the band’s willingness to go wherever they see fit musically that has kept Blitzen Trapper’s career on a steady upward trajectory. Back in the days of the music that Trapper is channeling, the songs more often than not were nothing more than a retelling of last night’s backstage antics. Sure, they rocked, but there was no real substance besides the sound of 4-5 guitars shredding it out. OK…that’s pretty substantial actually, but you catch my drift

 On Goldwing though, song titles like “Taking It Easy Too Long” or “Love The Way You Walk Away” speak volumes before you’ve ever heard a note. And what you find within the songs is probably some of the best lyrics that Early has written. Throw in the epically heavy riffs of the barnburner that  are “Your Crying Eyes” and “Street Fighting Son” and  again, by dispensing with the weird and playing it (somewhat) straight, the band has been able to find a perfect balance where insightful, personal lyrics live in harmony alongside crunched-up guitar rhythms and screaming 3-octave-at-a-time guitar solos.

At its core American Goldwing is a rocket-powered musical lesson in what it used to take for musicians to be COMPLETELY bad ass, and, more importantly, what it takes for them to continue to be so today. American Goldwing is the NEW classic rock. It’s the NEW cool. And for Blitzen Trapper, it’s yet another milepost in a career that shows no sign of slowing down as they head directly for outer space.

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