Blitzen Trapper bandleader Eric Earley has long been a man of many influences. Before the group’s seventh studio full-length he declared the main gravitational pulls on the collection were Waylon Jennings and Wu-Tang Clan — which, oddly enough, flowed into one sonic path smoother than one might think. VII was surreal in its genre-bending as well as its blending, mixing rap-style lyrical flows with Southwestern accents and danceable melodies.
For their newest effort, Earley says he started by revisiting more familiar territory. “I just went back to the bands that influenced me in high school, like the Replacements and R.E.M., Uncle Tupelo.” On All Across This Land, which EW is streaming in full below, Earley returns to Americana-inflected rock and psychedelic whims, the first taste of which fans would have heard on Furr (2008) and most recently on American Goldwing (2011). But All Across This Land is bigger, synthier, warmer. Its guitars are brighter, more soaked in reverb.
The question it asks, through various mouthpieces, is also bigger. “Where have I been?” Or rather, “Why have I been there?” All Across This Land‘s first nine tracks look back to Earley and his high school friends (“Nights Were Made For Love”), a young crush that never grew into more (“Mystery and Wonder”), a relationship hanging on by a single, gasping breath (“Love Grow Cold”), and Earley’s father (“Cadillac Road”).
“Cadillac Road”, in particular, anchors the record in retrospection. “I was thinking about my father. He’s been gone for many years, but I wondered if I ever really knew him,” Earley says of the tune with the tale of a man who worked for a phone company in a dying town, and who stayed behind even after the rest had left — the circumstances of which Earley says were very real.
The final track finally looks forward. On “Across The River” Earley imagines crossing “the river that runs between the sun and the darkness of our lives” to speak to his father. It’s not a new concept, of course. The River Styx has been the way out, or over, since first appearing in Greek Mythology. But Earley makes it immediate and affecting, weaving a filigree portrait of longing for those long gone. Those who’ve wondered what they have to do to see someone again will understand.
And if it feels as real as the other stories on the album that we know are real that’s because, in some ways it is. “Who’s to say meditating on the thought, ‘What if I was to just cross over? Just to talk to my dad?’ isn’t real?” Earley asks by way of explanation. Certainly, not us.
All Across This Land is streaming below and releases next week, October 2nd via Vagrant Records.