Trout Fishing in America,
Closer to the Truth
(Trout, 1999)

Closer to the Truth is about daydreams and desperate romance, lost summers and miraculous winters. It's exactly the sort of subject material that turns mushy and cloying on the pens of poor songwriters. So it's all the more impressive that Trout Fishing in America has turned this into a firm, funny, sometimes even cutting album based around wishes and romance and long devotion.

"Dreaming" is exactly the sort of wishful, sappy idea that should have adults' eyes rolling back towards their brains. But the Trouts acknowledge the daring nature of real dreaming, the defiance inherent in plans to "write my songs up in a tree." "Old Things" feels like an older song, its musical styles paying clear tribute to bluegrass and suggesting even older music of the 1920s. A marital discussion glorifying all that grows better with age, "Old Things" tap dances its way to a conversational conclusion of such sheer nerve that it can only be answered with a laugh.

That same sly humor finds its way onto every track on Closer to the Truth. But it takes center stage "After You've Gone," an anticipatory breakup tune that wouldn't sound out of place on a Junior Brown album. The hopefully ex-boyfriend runs down a litany of all the tacky, tasteless activities he'll welcome back when his girl says goodbye, with a bright country tune making it clear that there's no regret in his speculation at all, never mind the last few words. That humor takes a darker, more pessimistic tone to "Keep It on the Positive Side." Sarcastic exhortations to stay upbeat through a pedantically dull day are given an extra bit of morbid cheer through a bluesier tempo. "Dangerous" scolds against risk taking behavior. But the reggae-inspired beat and examples of truly foolish behavior can't compete with the litany of dangers, so numerous and often pointless that the idea of danger soon seems ludicrous.

A sparkling, eager tune paints the front of an "Alberta Postcard." A simple, poetic account of a southern boy's trip to Alberta in the winter combines detailed descriptions of life in the snow with passionate reviews of unexpected winter pleasure. Anyone who's ever rejoiced at the first or only snow of winter will understand the magic that captures the singer, and the instrumental treatment of the song conjures up the cold magic of the snow with the warm glow of wonder. "Almost September" also tries to capture a seasonal moment in a reminiscence of a spent summer. Hard-driving upswings in the easier folk-rock path of the song help carry the desperate nostalgia of a time ending forever. "But I Do" veers away from folk, heading fort the territories of rock. The hopeful lyrics and hard music catch the iron determination of someone determined to save a person from his own pessimism.

"There You Go" sets itself up as a list of compliments disguised as complaints. The subject of the song soon appears to be a person flawed to the point of greatness, exhilarating and exhausting to know. The tune veers between surprise and resignation, sometimes contradicting the words of the song. Moments of instrumental quiet help create a lyric run that verges on a lecture. These softer songs could be filler, second favorites to the band's cutting humor. But the complex tunes and some truly delectable lyrics make the gentle tracks some of the most incisive on the album.

Trout Fishing in America has a style so distinctive that they're free to sample a variety of musical influences. That variety is reflected in their lyrics. They seem to have an ear for the universal in human experience, and a skill for sharing it in a friendly, unintimidating way. Taking the haze off the moments in life, Trout Fishing in America will leave you feeling you really are Closer to the Truth.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 9 August 2003

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