|Trapper Schoepp & The Shades
||Run, Engine, Run
||25 September 2012
A young Tom Waits came in for much criticism for singing songs about heartbroken barflies when he was anything but. For a start he was too young to sing in the guise of the William J Kennedy characters he would later come to portray on film and on stage as his musical alter-ego, also called Tom Waits. Trapper Schoepp could have the same accusation levelled against him. Still in his early twenties, he cannot possess the life experience of the characters he articulates in the twelve tracks of Run, Engine, Run. But that doesn’t mean that the album is not a triumph.
Opening track, 'So Long', tips its hat to The Handsome Family and The Band, before slipping into a chorus that wouldn’t be out of place on Closing Time. The music is in the vein of Scots-Irish Country & Western, and the Waitsian references return again as the music begins to accept flecks of the great man’s 'I’ll Never Let Go Of Your Hand'. It’s a strong opening; and if it does little more than soundtrack happy beers for a student barbecue, it still catches the attention more than most new country music.
This is followed with 'Cold Deck'. We move further into the mid-west, truck stop friendly world of country music. Vocals from An Emotional Fish’s 'Celebrate' front music that mimic Hawaiian guitars. This is upbeat, foot-tapping, blue collar Americana; the enjoyable soundtrack to an independent car drive across wide open spaces.
Then we are treated to 'Wishing Well'. The opening feint, of slow REM clear-picking guitar, is swept aside. Thump thump go the drums and we’re back in business. More hard-luck C&W lyrics are hard to believe from such a young person, but they’re romantic hard-luck tales and that’s easy to believe from someone who has yet to experience the real thing. More cold beers on the bar, then, and the cowboy boots keep tapping.
Hothouse Flowers or Deacon Blue are the musical ancestors of 'Tracks'. An anachronism? If so, it’s courted. Check the album art – like an LP sleeve from your dad’s country collection. They sound like they like what they do, but this is the first whiff of fan-art rather than genuine creation. Run, Engine, Run opens with a harmonica blast, a few open chimes on a guitar, and then the song unfolds as a ripe slice of Bryan Adams nostalgia. It’s an ode to a hayseed childhood. It’s rose-tinted, it’s slightly mawkish, but it’s saved by music that never once doubts itself.
'Pins and Needles' is a song drawn from Trapper’s personal experience; his recovery from a serious car crash. It opens, like the album, in mid flow. The music is catchy, although the lyrics are not half as interesting. Only Mark Linkous could make personal mishap sound sympathetic ['Saint Mary', from Good Morning Spider]. But then there is an unexpected hairpin bend through the merest snippet of Iron Maiden guitar, before a sudden switchback to clap-along Britpop Oasis bluster. It is this ability to pull in seemingly random references that prevents the album descending into MOR Country Lite.
The celtic rock vocal that has defined the album so far strays close to Dropkick Murphy territory on 'Ally'. It’s slower. C&W love songs are typically maudlin and, for such a red-blooded tradition, lacking in lust. This is no different. It is the least enjoyable track, but still something you can imagine playing well in the red states. The following 'To Have You Around' is the album’s stumbling block if only because it sounds too much like the hateful 'Living Next Door To Alice', the novelty spawn of Smokie and brainless English chucklemonger Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown. Only the welcome arrival of female vocals redeems the song from being tainted by association.
'Twenty Odd Years' [and all the album titles seem to be puns], is carried along by Scots fiddle, and the music – as with all these tracks – is excellent. But twenty odd years is, give or take, how long Trapper has lived on planet earth – not his time in the clink, as we’re led to believe from the lyrics. Again, this is hard to take seriously. More so than on 'Tracks' this is fan art, rather than genuine emotion. It’s also rather limp compared with the surrounding tracks.
It slows the pace but then we are set off down 'I-94', which sounds like 'Certain People I Know' by Morrissey. It even stalks similar territory; bruiser lads on the outskirts of town. The song swings back into the same musical territory from the earlier part of the album. And the disappointment of the previous two tracks is forgotten. 'Wednesday, My Dear', which could be a Morrissey title, rolls ahead on Ramones guitar. It’s only a tad slower than The Ramones and the vocal is not as gloriously dunderheaded, but it feels like a test track from their 'End of the Century' album. It lacks Phil Spector’s dense wall of sound, of course, but again it is the kind of left-field reference that raises this album above the tide of indie landfill that drowns so much of new music.
Closing track, 'Mercy Blues', opens with a lordy-lordy moan worthy of Nick Cave. Again, Trapper is too young to repent and the earnest lyrics feel copied rather than experienced. Then Status Quo guitars kick in and we’re back in a good-ole-boy redneck bar on a Friday night. '50s Rock’n’Roll rattles across chorus and verse, until a knowing crescendo that forms the musical equivalent of, "Thank you, wherever-we-are, and goodnight!" closes the album as abruptly as it opened.
It’s a confident, well-made album. More importantly, it’s enjoyable; and it contains enough surprising twists and turns to hold the attention and whet the appetite for the next outing.
- Paul McGranaghan