Greg Trooper: Floating

Andrew Gilstrap

Greg Trooper


Label: Sugar Hill
US Release Date: 2003-05-13
UK Release Date: 2003-05-19

New Jersey native Greg Trooper has been knocking around, making records since 1986, and he seems to get stronger and stronger with each one. He's certainly respected in songwriter circles -- Vince Gill, Maura O'Connell, and Steve Earle have all recorded his songs -- but he's a far-cry from the ubiquitous Music Row songsmiths. If anything, Trooper seems to have thrived in obscurity; it's certainly hard to imagine steady growth like Trooper's could have occurred if meddling from outside forces and concerns were involved.

Each of Trooper's previous five records were for different labels, and Floating lands on arguably the largest roster so far: Sugar Hill's. As big-label debuts go, it seems like a comfortable fit; Sugar Hill should be as familiar as anyone with the proper sales expectations for rootsy songwriters. In Trooper, though, they may get more than they bargained for. Floating is just the sort of solid, unassuming album that gains a life of its own through word-of-mouth and year-end "best of" lists.

Kicking off with the rich Hammond organ tones of "The Road So Long", Floating establishes a warm, plainspoken feel from which Trooper never strays. Even on flashier songs like "Hummingbird", Trooper stays firmly ensconced in the subtle, souful path he's chosen for this album. The easygoing nature of Floating does come as a bit of a surprise, since Trooper's previous effort, 2001's Straight Down Rain, was firmly a rock record. The guitar still rears its head on occasion throughout Floating, but here Trooper seems more concerned with finding a comfortable style with which to cover a variety of topics.

Those topics range from death to love to wasted talent to Christmas lessons. The title track juxtaposes the pleasures of floating in the river's water with the imagery of a murder victim who floated ashore years ago; even as the song grows increasingly grim, a gentle arrangement highlighted by fiddle and restrained guitar buoys Trooper's relaxed delivery. "From Only You" kicks up its heels with spry mandolin and accordion as Trooper laments that a one-night stand doesn't seem likely to repeat itself. "Hummingbird" sounds like a guitar-driven Buddy Miller gem as it tells the tale of a father who traded in his joy of playing guitar, and that the family sees its driving him to an early grave. Trooper's most ambitious moment comes in "Muhammad Ali (The Meaning of Christmas)", which derives its lesson from the boxing champ's liveliness, self-respect, and adherence to his ideals.

Trooper approaches his songs with just as much variety in style, although in more subtle, rootsy ways. "Apology" would fit easily into the repertoire of any decent soul singer, and Trooper delivers his regret in classic R&B crooner style. On "Inisheer", he approaches his side of a lovely duet with Maura O'Connell with a vocal cadence reminiscent of Lyle Lovett. "When My Tears Break Through" (on which he's joined by Buddy Miller), Trooper opts for ringing guitars and subdued washes of cymbals.

Floating isn't an album that whips your head around on first listen; rather, it gets a few hooks in you here or there and waits for you to come back for another listen. With each spin, it offers up a few more surprises -- Trooper's straightforward lyrics begin to take on resonance, the easygoing pace reveals itself to be more varied than you first suspected. It's a remarkably well-crafted record, and hopefully one that will allow Trooper's audience to grow in proportion to his skills.





'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?


Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.


IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.


Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.


NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.


PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.


Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".


Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.


The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.