Portland’s best export is back with a new album, and a damn fine one it is too! Matured and yet still very organic! VII offers an intoxicating brew of roots rock, hillbilly stomp, funk, experimental, and, how bold, even a pinch of hip hop!

Blitzen Trapper have been going for some years now, and it’s re-assuring to know that the band excels in reinventing itself this way or the other. Always surprising, but never disappointing.

Opener ‘Feel The Chill’ is a Dylan-esque folk-rock stomper with harmonica interludes, Southern rock inspired riff work, and some funky undertones which set a stark contrast to the lyrics… the song is about a strange house in the hills, a place that might well be haunted or inhabited by a witch. It’s where superstition and tradition meet at the crossroads, and it sounds swell!

‘Shine On’ does just that – here the music does the main talking, it’s quintessentially a funky, happy gospel number which guest stars gospel singer Liz Vice and in tone it certainly takes a detour from the dark roads of the opening track.

‘Ever Loved Once’ suggests gliding along the big wide open in an automobile, with a nice Neil Young country rock feel to it, while the use of pedal steel and harmonica round it up nicely.

My first choice for personal favourite has got to be ‘Thirsty Man’ purely for it’s imaginary story telling. It’s a tale about driving on the road to nowhere, with the devil ever present. Trapper singer/songwriter Eric Earley recalls having written that song late one night, while on the road, when fog moved in and swallowed up the woods. Suddenly, all he could see was all sorts of shapes on all sides, and the darkness and the isolation made him think about stuff from the past, things we all might think about in such situation and which we might regret… “Sometimes in life you behave like a spooked animal”.
At the end of that road and that darkness, however, there’s a place called Chicken Spring up the mountains, and a thirsty man can always get a sip there… The track has a wonderful laid back groove to it, sly guitar hooks and harmonica, and very catchy. The opposite really to the fragmented story of the song…

As for my second choice favourite, it would have to be ‘Faces Of You’ – once again, quite out of character thanks to an almost retro psychedelic feel, but still delivered in good ole gutbucket fashion.

Another surprise is ‘Earth’. Here, soulfully applied slide strings, banjo, hip-hop speak-singing, and a protruding clap-your-hands chorus make for a curious hotch-potch but the result is more than satisfactory.

With ‘Don’t Be A Stranger’ we get a bluegrass-oriented acoustic ditty about the one you love, the special person who made it happen, and the ever-looming perils of growing apart and becoming ‘strangers’… A scintillating banjo play dominates, and the number is inspired by the folk and country artists that Earley grew up with such as John Prine and Waylon Jennings.

The weirdly titled ‘Neck Tatts, Cadillacs’ is a banjo driven tune for speed freaks, manic and fantastically chaotic, while the sombre titled ‘Valley Of Death’ would make a great soundtrack contender for Western TV series ‘Hell On Wheels’. Brilliant!

Here then is an album full of surprises and a multitude of styles that just work well because all the components are so cleverly woven together. Pity I’ll never get a chance to embark on a road trip with those guys, and encounter some of the weird and wonderful inspirations myself.