The origins of the musical genre known as Alternative Country is covered quite well in Greg Kot’s book “Wilco: Learning How To Die.” The book is more than a history of a band, it’s the tale of a movement. An uprising of artists that for a few years looked like it would change the American music scene. Though the movement gained legions of followers, in the grand scheme of things it remains on the fringes of popular music.
Had the moment flourished more people would be aware of the force of bands like Son Volt and would consider Uncle Tupelo as a band on par with Chuck Berry and the founders of rock and roll. But alt-country has faded mainly because often reflects a darker America. The America of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. And because it often explores the underbelly of the great republic more than any other style, it tends to turn off listeners.
Modern critics consider Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot as the epochal document of the alt-country canon. An album that mirrored the intense atmosphere that existed at the time of its release. Coming shortly after the dramatic events of 9/11, the album reflected the mood and anxiety of a generation, yet it hardly sold any copies. This in spite of nearly universal critical support upon its release as well as a dramatic documentary being filmed during its recording.
The reason for this? Because it is a rare document of Americana that paints a less than wonderful view of the country that begat it. Down to the suggestion that we may bear some of the blame for 9/11.
I bring all this up because it explains why Blitzen Trapper’s new album called VII (a nod to the number release it is in their stellar catalogue) will not be mentioned by a lot of critics as the best of the year nor why millions will not flock to this band nor follow them on Twitter. It’s too damn gritty for most.
On their previous six releases, the Oregon band has flirted with greatness. On this one that hit a near perfect mix of country, folk and progressive rock as they herald a new sound based on age-old influences. It’s deeply rooted in the history of American music after 1950 though I fear few will take note.
The band refers to their music as “Rocky Mountain Whoop Ass” and its merging of banjos with strong drum beats will have you strutting in the Valley. What makes this album an icon of Americana music is its amalgamation of all these sounds including the very welcome return of the blues harp to radio friendly music like “Shine On.” Then there is the Lynyrd Skynyrd inspired “Thirsty Man” that appears alongside “Faces of You’” which sounds like it could have appeared on any of Wilco’s last few albums.
Though it lacks the lyrical muscle of some of its precedents in the alt-country genre, this is simply an entertaining album of original tunes that deserves a wider audience. So if you are finished with the dubstep or the plethora of artist imitating EDM (read Muse). Buy this album and have fun while you dance with it