Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Shawn Biggs at Studio Paradiso, San Francisco, California
There's a scene in Charles Portis' "True Grit" that goes something like this: "With that, Quincy brought the bowie knife down on Moon's cuffed hand and chopped off four fingers which flew up before my eyes like chips from a log. Moon screamed and a rifle ball shattered the lantern in front of me and struck Quincy in the neck, causing hot blood to spurt on my face. My thought was: I am better out of this." A scene such as this one is something that makes Blitzen Trapper lead singer Eric Earley salivate, the dizziness of such Old Western problems and operating principles so vivid. It provides him with the trappings of something bordering on the Biblical. The man from the Pacific Northwest might be 200 years old at heart, drawing his inspiration from such colorful lawlessness of the Gold Rush times, when not many men could be trusted because no matter which direction you turned your back to, everyone behind you - at all times - carried a well-oiled pistol - and there was nary a hesitation to use it, should there be even the slightest cause for concern, a touch of hunger or greedy need or just revenge, which was at its most popular stage in history, the quickest emotion.
Earley and the Trapper live in a pre-modern land of homesteaders and a land where people could easily go missing and never be found again. They take us into this land of memorable characters living through such times that would never remember a worthless, faceless face - just another body behind some odor, some dirty hands and some scraggly limbs. They are prideful men, family men some of them, building their homes - enough for the wife and the brood - with their own hands, with the wood taken from trees that they felled themselves, with their words taken from cold, cold hangover-draggin' mornings. They are of wanderers from Wichita, Kansas, broken girls who are just found dead in lonely towns and in need of a pine box and some straw in their heads, after hard and short lives, masked by a ritual application of cheap perfume and stubbornness.
Earley sings of such a person in a song on the Trapper's previous album to last year's wonderful, "VII," giving us this, "You need some stone-washed jeans and a time machine/To take you back to that railroad track/Where you first took flight/In the morning light/So take me back to the first romance/When you made your stand/You were hand-in-hand/With the black-eyed angel of the evening star," and we see that such an expiration was just the unremarkable dealing of the inevitably shitty final hand. There is an unbearable sadness that accompanies much of what they do, though there's no denying that even in the perkiest of moments, the band is sweet on that sadness and never thinks of it as a cur. They never want to outrun it, but are more interested in seeing what that sadness takes with its coffee and how it lies its head to rest at night.
This is the sixth Daytrotter session for Blitzen Trapper, currently the most sessions of any one else on the planet. We are honored to call the fellows in this great band friends and hope they keep making special albums forever.
*Parts of this essay originally published November, 2010.