[WEIRD AMERICANA] Blitzen Trapper tends to write checks, in its opening songs, that its albums don't care to cash. That was the case with the proggy opener to last year's Destroyer of the Void, and it's true with new release American Goldwing, a Sgt. Pepper-meets-Creedence cut called "Might Find It Cheap." The song points toward a more refined and developed sound bridging Blitzen Trapper's freaky and mellow split personalities. Occasionally, the disc delivers on that promise: Lead single "Love the Way You Walk Away" is a gorgeous, timeless slice of psychedelic folk rock, and "My Home Town"—if a touch too familiar in its chord changes—is warmly sentimental but too odd and brief to turn into a cliché. Any one of these rollicking tunes would make a fine soundtrack to a particularly artful beer commercial, and all of them sound like Blitzen Trapper doing what Blitzen Trapper does best.
Even though buzzing, wacky cuts like "Your Crying Eyes" and "Street Fighting Sun"—songs that meld the homespun charm of Big Star with the balls-out riffage of T.Rex and Led Zeppelin—don't point toward much evolution in Blitzen Trapper's sound, they're welcome additions to the disc.
It's when Blitzen Trapper embraces minimalism that it gets itself into trouble. Despite lovely, unexpected chord progressions and gorgeous production, both "Girl in a Coat" and "Astronaut" open with overwritten verses that test the listener's threshold for cute rhymes. Frontman Eric Earley proved on 2008 effort Furr that he could write killer story songs—and he proves it again elsewhere on American Goldwing—but the Townes Van Zandt-lite closer "Stranger in a Strange Land," especially, feels like BT putting too many eggs in the Earley-as-troubadour basket at a time when he's not at the height of his powers (especially as bandmate Marty Marquis, who doesn't have a single songwriting credit here, has proven his chops in recent solo engagements). None of this is enough to spoil an otherwise very solid record, but it is enough to make me think BT needs a few heartfelt band meetings before it starts on its next disc.