This is a man who lives up to his name. Trooper has been plying his trade long before his first release in 1992. This is his third live set and will be familiar to anyone who has caught his live show in recent times. He is joined her by Chip Dolan on keyboards and accordion and Jack Saunders on upright bass; both add backing vocals and give the recording some added presence. As with all his albums and shows Trooper’s essential warmth and humour come across through his music. He has honed his writing and vocal skills through the years and both are something to be reckoned with.
There are 14 songs taken from various parts of his career, but with a majority from his last studio album Incident on Willow Street. There are touches of the darker moments in life like Broken Man or The Land of No Forgiveness and a poignancy that evokes empathy without wasting energy. Even when he takes on these subjects, he does so in a way that offers some insight into why a person is in that place. While songwriters aim for that level of perception, few can achieve it consistently throughout a body of work as Trooper has.
As a lyricist Trooper has worked towards a standard of writing that is economic in its story telling. He gets a story across in a set of words that are without any waste and are backed by strong melodic arrangements. In other words Trooper is a keeper and this collection reminds you why. Intimate and incisive, this set from the Rock Room will make you feel as appreciative as the audience did on the night.
An exponent of lap-style slide guitar, Martin Harley is the main vocalist and writer here. He is joined by Daniel Kimbro on upright bass and backing vocals. The result has both atmosphere and astuteness. It is a simple enough set up, with the duo playing live in Southern Ground Studio in Nashville, so it’s about the skill of the players and the strength of the songs. Both are good, an honest, simple and direct setting that was made to represent how Harley had been performing live recently.
We are lucky enough to have, here in Ireland, at least two excellent similarly styled guitar players; NC Lawlor and Clive Barnes. So we’ve heard how expressive an instrument the guitar is when played in this style. It is so here with songs which touch on blues, folk and various roots associations. There is a trio of covers as well as original songs. Goodnight Irene is arranged as a slow blues and is very effective as a new look at the traditional song. His interpretation of Tom Waits’ Chocolate Jesus has an appropriate angst with some dexterous slide. Blind Willie Johnson’s Nobody’s Fault but Mine has an essential understanding of how one can take the wrong path in life and Harley’s voice is full of the pain of that understanding.
Throughout Harley matches the emotion of his voice with that of his playing. Daniel Kimbo adds additional depth to the performances on what is a very accomplished album, full of light and shade. The closing song, the uptempo Love in the Afternoon closes the album with a sense of the uplifting, life affirming moments that life can bring. For this album Harley has stripped his sound back and shown that he can more than hold his own in a variety of musical settings.
From the opening moments of the first song , Down in the Valley, you know you’re into something good. The fiddle, Dobro and mandolin sit over a solid rhythm section topped by a strong vocal from Gallardo. This is as fine a blend of acoustic and electric roots music as you might wish. Gallardo’s songs are linear stories that speak of people, places and personal relationship politics. The album was produced, engineered and mixed by David Pinkston, who also appears as one of the guitarist as well as adding pedal steel. He and Gallardo have surrounded them with a tight and attentive set of musicians who, in the guest category, include Rob Ickes, Guthrie Trapp, Randall Bramblett and Mickey Raphael with a set of players who likely constitute regular contributors to Gallardo’s music; they usually work under the name How Far West.
There is a variety of moods and sounds to be found here from the sax in Midnight Sound that has a feel of a late night reflection. Banks of the Mississippi and Ophelia, We Cry (Ode to Levon Helm) should not displease fans of the fabled drummer and his former band. The North Dakota Blues is a standout, a pacy song that deals with the story of a gun toting gang who roamed that territory in the days before the west was entirely free of wildness. A Cup of Rain is much sadder and features some subtle piano and pedal steel which underline the sentiment. Angel on the Dance Floor has a beat in keeping with the song’s self-explanatory title. Another song touched with a certain sadness is This Time which uses Raphael’s harmonica to good effect with the pedal steel and guitar. The closing song of the thirteen (lucky for this listener) Pearls, is another set of lyrics that seems to dwell on the unhappy reality of some false expectations and making the best of what comes.
Despite the at times, sorrowful nature of some of the lyrics, the album is an uplifting and rewarding collection of Americana related tunes that finds Dan Gallardo, on his fifth album, at the top of his game. He deservedly garners more of the critical praise he has received for his previous albums and, given it’s release on Clubhouse, this part of the world should find him gaining new fans here too.