All Across the Land is one of Blitzen’s best transcriptions of their live gigs.
Blitzen Trapper is a live band first and foremost. This might be a strange statement for those who haven’t seen a Blitzen Trapper show. After all, these are the guys with great studio albums like Furr under their belts right? Of course! Blitzen Trapper aren’t in the league with Phish, where you can skip the studio stuff and dive right into the live material. Blitzen always curate great products for their full-lengths, but the best of the batch end up in their blazing live show, usually outshining their recorded counterparts. After seeing Blitzen for the first time last year, I tweeted that the Portland boys, who are often pegged as a country or folk group, rocked harder than 90 percent of all bands labeled “rock n’ roll.” All Across This Land is both a rock n’ roll album and a teaser for their fiery live show. This is long lost classic rock with a country twang and a gritty edge.
The title track kicks open the door with slashing guitars and thumping drums before the dueling guitar riff that controls the song bursts through. The six strings are deliciously crunchy and Eric Earley’s croon is gorgeous, but filtered with just enough dirt to make his cry of “raise it up!” a call to arms. It would be a devious game to play, but I desperately want to show All Across This Land to one of those old timers who claims rock is dead without telling them it was made in 2015. I have no doubt they would bob their heads and murmur “they don’t make it like this any more…”
The blistering classic rock pastiche ends up being All Across This Land’s best weapon. “Rock and Roll (Was Made For You),” the second track here, starts with a soft, decidedly un-rock n’ roll riff before the chorus crashes through the window with its coat on fire and a bottle of Jim Beam in its arms. “Let the Cards Fall” has a high-way speed rhythm thanks to Brian Koch’s rolling drums and holds a golden-sweet harmonica solo at the end, melding the DNA between outlaw country and the roots of rock.
The purer sounds that would have dominated the radio in the 70s don’t constitute the majority of All Across This Land, a surprising 80s influence also pops up, with cheesy synths and chord progressions that sound like Blitzen covering Cheap Trick. It’s all a little too polished and clean on “Mystery and Wonder,” which attempts a U2 sized chorus, when Blitzen is usually better dealing with the dirty micro. The soft touches of piano on “Even If You Don’t” fair much better.
Of course, this being a Blitzen Trapper album, there are moments of sheer gorgeousness. The tender love song “Lonesome Angel,” has a pristine, yet tasteful, violin section rushing to Earley’s aid as he deals with his commitment issues, even when faced with true love. The click-clack of “Even If You Don’t” seems to float in the air and the aforementioned “Let The Cards Fall” takes a simplistic look at the apocalypse and finds peace with the end times.
The best song here melds all the good traits from All Across This Land into one immaculate package. “Cadillac Road” is a brooding rocker with just enough flair from an acoustic guitar to allow future stripped down versions to stun, but it also has chiming keys cutting through the chorus, oddly reminiscent of the spooky organ work from that new Ghost album. Earley’s on the top of his game here; he’s got a knack for portraying gamblers, vagabonds and werewolves and the protagonist of “Cadillac Road” is a tough son of a bitch who’s been slowly broken by manual labor, lost love and booze. “I’ve got a teenaged boy he doesn’t know my name/ Sometime I go and watch him at his football games,” spits out Earley. The regret is just hiding in the back of his throat and he’s too damn stubborn to show guilt, but it’s slowly tearing him apart. The character is fatally flawed, but the music is anything but. If it doesn’t make it into the live set, I’ll sue.
In fact, All Across the Land is one of Blitzen’s best transcriptions of their gigs. There’s a mix of just about everything in the Blitzen bag here, and it would likely serve as a great introduction for a newbie. It’s another solid notch in the belt of a band that’s been continually kicking ass for a decade.