I've been listening to American Goldwing over and over before writing this review for two reasons, 1) I recognized that this is an album that is making a statement throughout each song, and 2) It grows on me every time I listen to it. I find it hard to compare to the rest of Blitzen Trappers work because in many ways it isn't like their other work.
Its difficult to put this in a positive way, even though I mean it as a complement: it sounds a little more conventional. Now, I love the quirks and frantic energy of older Blitzen Trapper material, and I hope it doesn't go away, but I feel like the songs in this album were written in a way that ended up helping it as a whole. A more collected way. The feelings expressed in this album required a very specific way of writing to complement them, and the guys nailed it on the head. What you get is pure nostalgia. When you listen to the record you can almost put yourself in the place of the protagonist (if I may call them that).
Much of this album lyrically is a balancing act. Songs like Fletcher and My Home Town make me long to go home and spend some days being drinking with my old friends and seeing where their lives have taken them. They chronicle those times that you look back on where you forget everything bad that happened and all you're left with is a paradise that you want to somehow come back to. They make you see the world as an aged photo through a sepia lens.
Songs like Astronaut, American Goldwing, and Taking It Easy Too Long do the exact opposite. We've all been there. That point that you get to where you realize that nothing is happening, and somehow you need to change something. Faces grow stagnate and routine becomes painful. They call you to the road and call you to action. They beg the grass to be greener somewhere else and call you to find out. Stranger in a Strange Land seems to unite the two concepts at the end. Its the end of the journey, and a great last song for the album. Its about coming back home at the end of your travels, when its finally out of your system and you've found your place. Quite possibly the best choice for a final song on an album since Her Majesty was tacked onto the end of Abbey Road.
I think that balancing act between those songs is the main point of the album, and I feel they're the foundation of the album. They attack the concept in a broad swoop and allow rest of the songs to hang beautifully off them like ornaments on a christmas tree. Love and loss, frustration and agression. All laid bare for all to feel with poignant lyrics that match the music nearly perfectly. The relationships in songs like Love The Way You Walk Away, Might Find It Cheap, & Girl In A Coat chronicle the conflict of love, difference, and the lingering thought that there might be something more out there.
Might Find It Cheap - This is a cool way to start off the album. The trippy beginning quickly explodes into what is the most “Blitzen Trapper-ish” song on the album. Every time a chord progression goes in the opposite direction I expect it to go I get more into it. I love the little break down right at the beginning of the chorus. This is one of the top three most musically strong songs on the album.
Fletcher – This is one of the songs that grows on me every time I hear it. The good ol' boy vibe it gives off is perfect for the lyrics, and the simplicity of the chord progression helps the song, because its exactly what its supposed to express. Simplicity. Awesome sing-along style chorus, it becomes catchier every time I hear it. Extremely tasteful when it gets to “let me live another day”. Thats one of my favorite moments on the whole album.
Love The Way You Walk Away – This song matches its lyrics best of all the songs on the album. Somehow it comes off not sad and not happy, but perfectly bittersweet. It brings out those mixed feelings in the lyrics, and is plain and simply very very beautiful. At first I wasn't a huge fan of it honestly, but every time I hear it and the way its supposed to fall in the album I appreciate it more. This is another one of the top three songs on the album.
Your Crying Eyes – I know they just had to do it. If there was no low fi hillbilly stomp intro in this album I would have eaten my own head. Somehow its just necessary. This song is very cool, and very very classic rock. It sounds like Blitzen Trappers take on The Rolling Stones, and it works really well. It gives off a blue collar vibe similar to Fletcher. No suprises in this song, just good ol' classic rock.
My Home Town – Although the lyrics are very important for the album, this is possibly my least favorite song on the album. I do like the turn it takes during parts like “does a true heart change or does it stay the same”, but the song just doesnt do much for me. The chords in the verse just come off gimmicky or cheesy to me. There isnt much change of pace or dynamics, so it gets weary after a while. This ones in the low three.
Girl In A Coat – The beginning parts of this song don't do anything for me. It feels to me like a dreary Irish folk song or something. I also feel like the rising guitar line that happens before the verse resolves and starts over is out of place. However this song is saved by the later parts. When Eric sings about “the hillsides are covered in snow”, I get goosebumps. What an awesome change. Also one of my favorite parts of the album. However that alone can't save the song from the rather boring versus for me. I put this one in the bottom three, but damn that change in the song kicks ass.
American Goldwing – Ah, the title track. I love it. Immediately it gives off this call to arms feel. Is that a Fender Rhodes I hear? Maybe. This song is neary perfect. I LOVE the key change, I love the harmonies in the “Oh no”s. This song calls you to get off your ass and get moving. Its a kick in the pants. The rhythm section's bumpiness in this song really gives it a great feel. The chord progression in this song is just so perfect. This is the song to hit the road to. Its probably the happiest song on the album too. Definitely top 3, if not the best song on the album. Blitzen Trapper has a knack for naming their albums after the best song.
Astronaut – This song is quite interesting. I can't quite seem to digest it. It confused me at first, and I couldn't get into it. Although its slowly growing on me, I'm still not a huge fan. It takes a long time to get anywhere, and when it does it drops off again right as I'm expecting it to climax. It also feels just the slightest bit under-tempo. This one goes on my bottom 3 picks. Its better than the other two as a whole, but it does actually lack the hooks that the other two had me captivated by for at least a bit.
Taking It Easy Too Long – This is a very pretty song, and probably the most classic country songs on the album. I like the chord progression. Again it goes in directions I don't expect and effortlessly resolves them. Good timbre on the vocals, and very tasteful harmonica solo. Although subtle, this is probably the best use of pedal steel guitar on the album. The music for this song fits the lyrics excellently. I love the very stubtle buildup of dynamic before it resolves near the end.
Street Fighting Sun – The Trappers needed to get their Zeppelin on. This song has balls. Yet somehow it doesn't feel out of place at all in this album. I don't think any other band could have pulled that off. Its hard rock and somehow still gives off this slightly blue collar country feel to it. I'm a big fan of this song. Great guitar work, and its something you can headbang to. Pretty straightforward on this one. It rocks hard.
Stranger In A Strange Land – What an ending. Its perfect. Its the resolution to all the conflict between the concepts in this album. Without this song the album would just linger with an idea and never have the answer. Very Dylan-esque. The chords match the lyrics wonderfully, and the lyrics might be the strongest in the whole album. Its very very honest. You almost have to close your eyes and be taken in by it. I get goosebumps on the line “And when I'm gone you'll know me by the friends I leave behind”. Thats a very honest line, and it seems like thats the legacy that most people leave on this earth. You shape the people around you who shape others. Its a big ripple effect, and I feel like this song shows that very well. This is an extremely close 4th when it comes to strongest songs. Without it the album just wouldnt be the same.
This is a beautiful example of a concept album, and I feel its something the guys from Blitzen Trapper needed to get off their chest. Its going to be a classic. Its ideas and its continuity are unrivaled. I can't even say whether I like it better than Furr or not because its so different. Its the strongest album as a whole, but it lacks a song that can live up to Furr when it comes to pure impact. That song left me emotionally drained, and I don't feel the same way about any of the songs on this album. But what Furr did for the album, this album does for its songs. Instead of one fantastic focal point, Blitzen Trapper painted this beautifully bittersweet portrait that is best taken in by taking a step back and obverving the whole masterpiece. Well done guys. I give it a 4.5 out of 5.