Two album reviews today, both from Portland, Oregon: neo-psychedelic Fernando and a burst of Americana from the incomparable Blitzen Trapper.
A couple of local records brought my attention down to earth this week. For the third time already this summer, I’m looking at a new release from Fluff & Gravy records, which should be a clear sign that John Shepski and his crew are doing something right up there in Northeast.
This week, it’s Fernando, as in Fernando Viciconte, local troubadour and veteran of two decades of shifting sands in the Northwest music scene. His record, Keep The Radio On is a somber slice of psychedlic influenced country rock, featuring an array of songs that reveal not only a wide experimental range in production but an extraordinary depth of feeling as its backbone.
This is Viciconte’s 7th studio recording, and for extra heft he brings in local heavyweights Peter Buck on mandolin, and Scott McCaughey (The Minus Five, Young Fresh Fellows, among others). The result is a proper album, sincere reflective of a slice of the artist’s experience, a real rarity, no song standing proud of the collection. To mention a few though, I was drawn into Viciconte’s haunted vocal on the opener “Save Me”, the view from the gallows on “The Interior” and how the blasted out, crispy guitars partner with sumptuous harmonies on “Burned Out Love”.
Fernando is an artist. There is nothing cunning to keep you listening to Keep The Radio On. Instead, this a statement that is at all times bleary, downtrodden and beautiful.
When I texted my friend to tell him that I was previewing the new Blitzen Trapper record, All Across This Land he asked what I thought. I said, with nary a hesitation, this is their porch sitting record.
Sounded to me like everyone in the band grew up and got married. And I mean that now, after numerous listens, as a very good development.
If Blitzen Trapper’s career to date should be marked by anything, it’s abundant songwriting. They have been exploring new corners of their own little dark corner of Americana by incremental degrees on previously acclaimed records like Furr and American Goldwing. Each of those pieces of music seemed infatuated with the idyllic feeling of wind in their hair and wide mountain ranges viewed from the back of a motorcycle. Now that wind blows through because it’s later in the season and its cold out.
As reflective as this one is, of course, there is quite a bit of fun too. The title track opener is a solid alt-country/rock classic, and one of their first paeans to form on “Rock and Roll” but there is are none of the familiar bursts of Zappa freakiness to spice it up. In fact, the sound has softened considerably, looking back peacefully at young lives on their middle chapters on “Mystery And Wonder” and “Love Grow Cold.”
In every great rock career, a record like All Across This Land arrives. This one doesn’t have an analog to “Black River Killer” and precious few nods to their experimental roots (as that which marked albums like Wild Mountain Nation but hey, that was eight years ago). This record has a decidedly settled feel. On that mountain is a cabin, and them boys are there, triumphantly.