Sometimes I feel like a descriptor as worn as “Bob Dylan-like” can get sapped of its prodigious qualities and left sounding almost like an insult. Blitzen Trapper’s Eric Earley has been nursing that tag for the better part of a decade now, and for fairly obvious reasons: his foggy croak, reclusive interviews, and winding, sometimes diverging sense of storytelling have put him in close company with Mr. Zimmerman—but in the best ways possible. Earley earns that status not out of reductive colloquialism, but out of comparable levels of talent.
As such, American Goldwing might be the Dylan-est exhibit in the Blitzen catalog. It’s a centralized expression in plains-riding country and rusted Southern rock, with none of the synths or outwardly quirky freak-folk experiments—instead there’s saloon piano, languid Skynyrd guitar solos, and a dash of pedal steel. Even the title, American Goldwing, is a reference to a freeway-mulching motorbike—it’s a snapshot of Blitzen Trapper at their most giddily undisguised.
It could be a troubling concept, but Earley’s songwriting can make meat-and-potatoes Blitzen just as engaging as prog-harmonium Blitzen. American Goldwing is home to some of the most immediately catchy songs they’ve produced in a career. Songs like the freewheeling, greased-down “Fletcher,” whose components are all delectably unattached, radiate an abstract joy—the kind of tie-loosened fun that comes from the simple pleasure of being in a rock ’n’ roll band, basking in the chemistry of playing with some of your best friends, and making the music you absolutely want to make.
That relaxed, free-of-judgement interplay is what elevates American Goldwing. Blitzen Trapper has never been a band to pay too much heed to critics, but here it’s like a modus operandi. The title track opens with a giant blast of harmonica, the dormant duo of “Astronaut” and “Taking it Easy Too Long” are smeared in lazy pedal steel, the central riff (and name, for that matter) of “Street Fighting Sun” could’ve been plucked off an Allman Brothers jam. The record goes as far to end with a dour ballad called “Stranger in a Strange Land,” which could be taken as a poignant meditation on alienation or woe-is-me clutter depending on your current headspace.
Some listeners might be frustrated that the relative traditionalism of American Goldwing is coming after the ambition of Destroyer of the Void (a la The Hazards of Love to The King is Dead) but frankly, I appreciate the honesty. Goldwing is the sound of a band entirely locked in. Sure, they may be well within their comfort zone, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable.