With a kaleidoscopic style that keeps their music seamlessly flowing from one style and tempo to the next, listening to a Blitzen Trapper album can make for adventurous listening. Fifteen years in, this Portland-based collective — singer/guitarist Eric Earley, guitarist Erick Menteer, drummer Brian Adrian Koch, bassist Michael Koch, and multi-instrumentalist Marty Marquis — continue to churn out well-crafted country-influenced rock numbers with effortless ease. By this point, it’s reasonable to expect solidly constructed songwriting, eclectic musicianship, and a couple of unique wrinkles thrown in for good measure. All Across This Land is no exception as its ten tracks run the genre gamut across the musical landscape.
The opening title track and the ensuing “Rock and Roll (Was Made for You)” rollick along with an air of effortless bar-band energy reminiscent of ’70s-era staples Joe Walsh, Thin Lizzy, or Bad Company. All squealing guitars, catchy chorus hooks, and sneering attitude, the band builds off the template created by those classic rock masters while inflicting their own hazy interpretations over the material. The sound throughout the album is minimal and quaint, simple enough to guide the stories along, and in step with the band’s live operation. It’s easy to picture these songs being played uninterrupted across the course of a show.
Just as deft as Blitzen Trapper are in pulling off the classic rock sensibilities, they are equally adept at carrying the Americana torch. Tracks like “Lonesome Angel”, “Nights Were Made for Love”, and “Let the Cards Fall”-in addition to having the ideal titles for the genre-feature wistful violin, pedal steel, and harmonica accompaniments that augment the sturdy narrative topics of heartfelt yet unrequited love, small town shenanigans, and faded past glories. It’s Springsteen territory filtered through an updated blue collar, West Coast lens; the band’s Oregon roots serve as the staging ground for many of their characters’ travails, similar to how Bruce set much of his material deep within the New Jersey badlands.
As the band has seemingly perfected their trademark sound, Earley has found his wheelhouse as a songwriter, too. Each of Blitzen Trapper’s albums feature a deep, epic track or two that swell with mysticism and intrigue. Usually somewhat Biblical and also a little sci-fi in scope, these tracks usually serve as high points as they showcase the storytelling influences Earley has absorbed into his own unique perspective. While past albums featured material along these lines like “Furr”, and “Black River Killer”, here the two standouts are found in “Cadillac Road” and the album closing “Across The River”. The former finds an aging, hard luck drifter seeking penance and discovering that “you just don’t know what you have until it’s gone for good”. The latter is more restrained in its slow, finger-picked musical presentation, but similar in its powerful message of searching and longing: “You can hit the road or stay in bed / You can sink or swim or fight / But when all of this is said and done / You’re gonna walk so gently still into that night”. Earley’s gift lies in the way he continually makes these universal themes so personal. As a listener, you feel his character’s emotions, but are always uncertain whether or not you should be rooting the character towards success, let alone aware of the resolution.
Though the album fails to find Blitzen Trapper breaking any new ground or chartering into a vastly new direction, All Across This Land is valuable as a testament to the workmanlike efficiency the band brings forth every couple of years. They are a true American band, not just in the sense of the influences they reflect or the genres they are capable of performing, but also in their sense of attention and detail to the craft. This extends to their touring schedule, as well. For the better part of the decade, their itinerary includes not just stops at the fashionable destinations along the East and West coasts, but also the college towns and industrial outposts in between. Their touring van has logged countless miles bustling through towns like Missoula, Ogden, Charlottesville, and Ferndale. They’re 21st century purveyors of literate heartland rock as they prove reliable in their output and generous in their display. This is a trustworthy and worthy addition to one’s album collection and live appointment book.