Sunday, December 21, 2008

"Lonesome for You Now" / Greg Trooper

What, you've never heard of Greg Trooper? Well, it's time to rectify that error. Forget the fact that iTunes classifies his music as either folk or country; this guy can easily cut loose with a rocker or slide into a mellow R&B groove when the spirit moves him. His musical heroes from early on? Otis Redding, Bob Dylan, and Hank Williams -- now there's a trinity for you. Frankly, the country label's the one I think fits him the least; I suspect it's been slapped on him because he lives in Nashville, and because artists like Steve Earle and Vince Gill and Robert Earl Keen have recorded his songs (then how do you account for the fact that Billy Bragg has too?).

Here's how neglected this cat is: Amazon doesn't have mp3s available for any of his three in-print albums; his first three CDs, of course, are out-of-print and there just aren't that many copies floating around. He plays smaller venues, and performs sporadically; why, he's still bookable for house parties, and he has been considering doing his next album (which I gather he's recording right now) as a privately-financed endeavor. If this isn't proof that the record industry is messed up, I don't know what is.

So even though you'll have to scramble to find his music (the more recent albums are at least on iTunes, thank goodness), I promise you it'll be worth it if you appreciate some high-quality Americana. This particular song -- from his 2005 album Make It Through This World -- is the sort of track I love more every time I hear it.

The tempo's relaxed and weary, a sort of waltzy two-step that's like one long exhalation. It's a song from the road, the lament of a touring artist who just want to go home and be with his sweetheart (read wife) -- he's been at this long enough, the charm of life on the road has pretty much worn off. "The sun is shining / On the Belfast road today," he begins this tour diary, and the melodic phrases rise hopefully, it seems things are going well -- "Now folks are lined up / To hear the music play" -- but the next line drops in the undertow of reality: "And I'm so lonesome for you now." Right alongside the glimmer of success on the horizon is the dull pain of missing her, and right now that's the only thing that really matters to him. Oh, sure, he's aware of his career: "I'm more than flattered / Someone finally knows my name / There's a red carpet / I've never stood so close to fame / And I'm so lonesome for you now." It's like a toothache, and it just won't go away.

What I love is the balance of this song; he's completely aware that life isn't black and white. He's happy that his concerts are starting to sell out, especially after being at it so long. In the third verse, he indulges in a little imagery: "Down the mountain / A glacier makes its way / Eyes can't see / The progress it makes / It's a long journey / But I found out the ice will break" -- but you know by now what that last line of the verse has got to be: "Still I'm so lonesome for you now."

I love the hoarse, plangent edge to Trooper's voice (I sure do hear Otis Redding in this). I love how patient that tempo is, nothing frantic or overheated at all. It's taken him a long time to get even this smidgeon of fame, and he's sure not taking it for granted. But still -- hey, he's human. And he loves her. Somehow, that manages to be incredibly sexy.

Don't be fooled by that easy soulful tempo or the ruminating lyrics -- this is less-is-more songwriting at its finest, that deft light touch, the disciplined structure, the ruthless hewing to a single conceit. And here's the mark of a skilled songwriter: it doesn't even sound like he's working too hard at it. This song is like butter.

PS I couldn't find a sample of this particular track, but check out Greg Trooper's website for various audio clips -- you won't be sorry!

1 comment:

Nite Owl said...

I checked him out on youtube... listened to a couple of tunes. nice bluesy vibe. Like it!