Greg Trooper,
Incident on Willow Street
(52 Shakes, 2013)

After a dozen albums (the first released in 1986), Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Greg Trooper has a secure place in that music-industry circle of hell where what are pigeon-holed as "cult artists" labor. He ought to be famous. He also generates dismal ruminations on those who are famous, and inexplicably so, the ones who are as close as any dial you prefer not to turn. In other words, he's a critics' darling admired by fellow musicians -- Steve Earle is a particular champion -- and hard-core fans, and he's worth getting to know.

Incident on Willow Street is resolutely unfashionable, straightforward, devoid of bombast, the musical equivalent of a meal of meat and potatoes in an out-of-the-way greasy spoon where the grub tastes good and fills you up.

You will have heard the sound before -- folk with strains of no-nonsense rock -- invented on the Greenwich Village scene in the mid-1960s (Dylan of course being the big influence) and still practiced in their own way by good people such as Earle, Guy Clark and Lyle Lovett. Not that Trooper sounds much like anybody out of Austin or Nashville. For one thing, these feel very much like city songs, and the country music is muted to the occasional faint steel guitar, there more to season than to define.

Trooper has assembled a solid band led by the revered multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell. The dozen songs will grow on you, from an initially broadly approving impression to a growing sense of the specific beauty and power of each. At the moment my favorites are "Steel Deck Bridge," "Mary of the Scots in Queens" and "Diamond Heart," but by the time you read these words, I'll probably be just as enamored of other titles. These are grown-up songs, and whether the events they recount actually happened or not, they're all true stories.

music review by
Jerome Clark

16 November 2013

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