Released just in time to prime UK fans for his forthcoming tour Greg Trooper’s 11th album, Incident On Willow Street is another fine set from the man who has been praised and covered by the likes of Steve Earle and Billy Bragg. It maintains his position as a fine craftsman who takes elements of American music (including folk, country and soul) and carves them into his own unique style. Incident On Willow Street is more varied in its delivery than its predecessor, 2011’s Upside-Down Love which had a southern soul vibe about it. While Trooper can still deliver a drop dead southern ballad with keening steel guitar and gospel organ as on Everything’s A Miracle, one of the album’s highlights, overall there’s a more varied feel with up-tempo country songs and even some Celtic connections.
The opening song, All the way To Amsterdam is a fairly generic song which doesn’t prepare the listener for the heights to follow. It does introduce the sweet and mellow pedal steel tones of his lieutenant on this album, the multi instrumentalist Larry Campbell ( a stalwart member of Dylan’s never ending tour band a decade ago). Campbell is all over this album and maybe instrumental in the rootsier feel. His mandolin drives Good Luck Heart, the second song here and by now Trooper’s building up a head of steam as this initially jaunty song is beefed up by some excellent country twanging and the band is swinging mightily by the end. A blistering song. Steel Deck Bridge reflects the American dream of endless optimism that there’s something at the end of the rainbow. A great performance it builds in intensity as Campbell on guitar and steel guitar piles waves of sound over the solid beat. One Honest Man is the other guitar whacked number here with Campbell hitting the scales on a New Jersey tales of walking the mean streets.
Trooper ditches the urban feel for the remainder of the songs with Amelia a gentle love song buttressed by tender pedal steel while This Shitty Deal has a Mexican cantina type delivery as Trooper sings of a poor dope cuckolded by a femme fatale and who blames himself. The Girl In The Blue is another border song with Campbell adding some south of the border fiddle and it’s infectious as hell. Diamond Heart is a neat little loping country number with fiddles blazing away over a Floyd Cramer like piano bed and a Celtic lilt that reflects the impact the old world music traditions had on the new world. Trooper updates this musical miscegenation on the ribald Mary Of the Scots in Queens where he tells the tale of his unrequited lust for the titular Mary but is whipped and defeated by her eventual husband “Irish Brian.” Trooper and his band mates go all out here for a “folk rock” sound which resembles the early solo Richard Thompson and it’s a fair bet to say that this song will be a real crowd pleaser.
Trooper is touring the UK in October with several Scottish dates, check then out here