[HIGHWAY SONGS] On paper, Blitzen Trapper's new album is built for the road. These are 10 short tracks of souped-up Americana, about first loves, hard work, vices and trusty old cars. Frontman Eric Earley narrates the journey in his familiar, weathered voice, his tortured vocals suggesting he's been to hell and back more than once.
Not long after the needle hits the band's eighth studio album, however, things take a turn for the plain. The dramatic peaks and valleys of the opening title track—a near-perfect blast of toothy Southern rock that rivals the band's runaway hit, "Furr"—give way to the endless ubiquity of power lines and flickering lights. To the band's credit, the sound is tight and clean throughout. Earley wrote the record in a relatively concentrated period, and many of the tracks have a thematic feel as a result.
Nods to the greats are plentiful, from Tom Petty ("Lonesome Angel") to Bruce Springsteen ("Nights Were Made for Love") to the Band ("Let the Cards Fall"). Earley is accompanied by the empathetic sounds of heartbroken Americana, played on the harmonica, lap steel and carefully plucked acoustic guitar. Lyrically, the message tends toward classic country mantras: the regret of taking things for granted, heavy drinking, cherished guitars. One of the best songs, "Cadillac Road," takes advantage of Blitzen Trapper's many pieces, with a coasting guitar riff caught in a delightful tug of war between sky-high keys, weeping steel and grounded, pulsing drum work.
There is comfort in domestication, but also the danger of dullness. Talk of wild hearts and the fist-pumping gospel of rock 'n' roll feel caged by safe hooks and melodies. Like any road trip, All Across This Land has its moments, but without a lead foot, the journey feels arduous from time to time. MARK STOCK.
SEE IT: Bltizen Trapper plays Revolution Hall, 1300 SE Stark St., with Barna Howard, on Saturday, Nov. 28. 9 pm. $20 advance, $25 day of show. 21+.