Trapper Schoepp
Photo: Joseph Cash / Missing Piece Group

Trapper Schoepp Writes New Songs of Warning in ‘Siren Songs’

Trapper Schoepp goes to Johnny Cash’s cabin and discovers the roots of his music lie in the continued tradition of making things new.

Siren Songs
Trapper Schoepp
Grand Phony
22 April 2023

Trapper Schoepp has openly proclaimed the importance of performances by those who have come before him, yet none of the tracks on his latest album, Siren Songs, are traditional compositions. The dozen original cuts sound like old ballads with titles such as “Cliffs of Dover”, “Seven Mile Fair”, “Anna Lee”, and “Queen of the Mist”. The songs are mostly played on primarily acoustic instruments, especially the guitar, with mandolin, dobro, and tin whistle accompaniment. However, Schoepp’s topics are contemporary.

For example, the lovely and lilting “Silk and Satin” concerns a seaman who likes to dress up in drag on weekends. “Throw out them old sailor blues / For mermaid red and high-heeled shoes”, the narrator croons to his lover. Schoepp sings in hushed tones to express intimate, happy feelings. The love affair is a good thing. The details of their relationship show that their kink brings joy to them both.

Sometimes the melodies are upbeat in contrast to the contents, making the songs haunting. On the sad tale of woe about the church and sexual abuse, “Diocese”, the accompaniment is merry and even a bit drunk in tone. The players keep the rhythm in the forefront as Trapper details the continued impact of childhood molestation on a person’s life. The music shows the allure of becoming a barfly when the facts of life are sad.

Siren Songs was recorded at Johnny Cash‘s cabin in Hendersonville, Tennessee. His band includes Patrick Sansone (Wilco) and John Jackson (The Jayhawks), who produced the record and used some of Cash and his wife June Carter’s original instruments. Siren Songs has an old-time feel thanks to its folkish content. The tunes are familiar, and some licks seem purposely identifiable from previous songs. This is part of that traditionalism Schoepp alluded to as an influence. For example, the tin whistle on “Secrets of the Breeze” recalls the Irish sea shanties of yore. The mystery of the ocean, and its hidden dangers, have been the topic of song as long as there have been sailors. Siren Songs’ title refers to “sirens”, the temptresses of the ancient voyagers, alludes to as much.

Trapper’s brother Tanner sings harmony and backup vocals and plays bass. When the two join forces, the fraternal effect suggests the multiple personalities inhabited by one person. We all possess multiple voices in our head, even as one may win as the outward expression. When Trapper and Tanner croon “You are / I was / I was / I was / You are / I was / once a fool” on “The Fool”, the similarity in their staccato tones implies the two are one. Trapper sings louder and is the main force, but Tanner comes off as the reflective voice within.

Siren Songs offers pleasures in its casual informality. The songs remind us of ones we have heard before, but they are different now. The more things remain the same, the more they change. Schoepp goes to Cash’s cabin and discovers the roots of his music lie in the continued tradition of making things new.

RATING 7 / 10