As far as bands go, Blitzen Trapper has become one of my favorite traveling companions. Don’t worry–I’m not harboring any delusions about having spent a wild month on tour with them, rattling across the country one dimly lit bar or crowded nightclub at a time. I’m talking about the way their songs create a sense of adventure, a narrative that leads you on a journey through a distinct environment—usually past a woodsy creek or through a sleepy mountain town. The band has proved they are gifted raconteurs and American Goldwing, their sixth full-length album, is no exception to this.
Beyond their knack for storytelling, there’s something else familiar about the album. I don’t mean predictable—although Eric Earley’s voice is just as solid and reliable as ever—but rather, nostalgic. The album has the feeling of wanting to be somewhere that you are far away from; no longer does Earley sing of wandering “aimlessly about” as he does in “Furr”, one of the band’s earlier and most popular singles. Now, as he sings on the album’s final track, he is “weary from this river/It flows far but never nearer to my home.” There is even a nostalgic familiarity in the sound of the album. I couldn’t help but catch a nod towards Elton John with the piano-laden tune “Astronaut” (right down to the title of the track, no less); the simple guitar riff and somewhat melancholy chorus of “My Home Town” recall Neil Young; “Stranger in a Strange Land” has a rambling, Dylan-esque feel. This even works with the lyrical tone of the album; it is not only a return to roots in a geographic sense, but also in a musical one.
Blitzen Trapper may be singing about going back home, but they haven’t grown up too fast. “Street Fighting Sun” has that stomping, psychedelic spirit that some might remember from a few songs off their 2008 album Furr. I found American Goldwing a little ballad-heavy, so the wild, jagged riffs and crashes of drums were almost a relief. Earley’s rich and melodic voice does bring a nice presence to slower songs, but I think the band’s strength lies in their upbeat mid-tempo tunes like “Might Find It Cheap” or “Love the Way You Walk Away”. The title track, “American Goldwing”, is also one of the album’s gems, with a chorus that’s hard not to sing along to.
Blitzen Trapper will be playing at the Music Box in Los Angeles on November 17th.
Review by Julia MacNelly.