Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Brett Kissel, Dave Hause and Trapper Schoepp

Brett Kissel – East Album

We’ve been South with Brett Kissel, now we’re heading East on the second of his four albums in 2023. This one is mellow and meditative, as Brett leaves the bombast behind – for now, as one of the remaining two albums is a live set.

Spend A Little Time With You is both the opening track and the song chosen to promote the album as a whole. Sighs of ‘ooh darlin’ begin three blissful minutes of front-porch happiness. Having already sung a song named after her on a previous album, Brett brings in his wife Cecilia for the warm closing track Sanctuary. The pair ‘feel the energy’ and wrap their voices around each other in a gentle way.

On Meet Me In Vegas (‘got a handful of aces so let’s roll the dice’) our narrator wants his girl in LA to be his bride: ‘I hope your daddy’s cool with a sudden change of plans’ makes me want to hear the second part of this story. It actually sounds a bit like a Gary Quinn song.

Elsewhere, Drive is one of those songs about leaving a small town and heading over state lines, while Made It tells the story of Brett and his beloved ‘pulled together just like magnets’. Its defiant, rapid-fire lyric is at odds with the coffeehouse arrangement. Coastline is the same song as Drive but with a more melancholy theme of ‘moving on’.

Port Colborne in Ontario gives its name to a track where Brett describes it as a ‘sad and heartbreak harbour town’. Its protagonist is a girl who has ‘an eye for a bargain [and] keeps the other on him’. Nowhere begins with Brett’s narrator complaining about how the city lights ‘burn a little too bright’ and a life off grid appeals.

When I Get On A Memory is a reminiscin’ song where our narrator remembers conversations with grandpa looking at ‘the rear view in my soul’. Ten Years From Now looks forward to an unforeseeable future in a way that Jason Mraz and many other introspective songwriters have done. (Incidentally, how can you be closed for ‘the foreseeable future’ if the only think foreseeable is that there will be a future?)

Two down, two to go for Brett. He’s at CMA Fest in June and on April 14 played the Grand Ole Opry alongside Riders in the Sky, Ricky Scaggs and Gary LeVox.

Dave Hause – Drive It Like It’s Stolen

After marathon albums from Morgan Wallen and Nate Smith, it was a delight to listen to a tight 30-minute collection from Dave Hause which imagines life after the apocalypse. In early May he is putting on a festival in his home city of Philadelphia which brings together plenty of alt-country and rock acts like Drive-By Truckers and Craig Finn from the Hold Steady.

You can tell Will Hoge is involved in the production as his fingerprints are all over opening track Cheap Seats (New Years Day NYC 2042), which namechecks Gershwin and explodes for its final minute as if set alight by a match. There’s a string section on Chainsaw Eyes, while Low has some twinkling glockenspiels and reminds me of a bar-rock band like Gin Blossoms or indeed The Hold Steady, with the narrator asking ‘Would you love me when I’m low?’

There’s a similar drive to Hazard Lights, where Jane’s Addiction get a namecheck and the chorus is pure Tom Petty, or rather pure Will Hoge. So is Drive It Like It’s Stolen, which includes the image ‘moonstruck clowns’, and so is Damn Personal, which has some participatory woahs and some power chords which match a confident lyric.

There’s a crescendo on Pedal Down, a song which warns people not to ‘dare turn around’, while Lashing Out is a finger-picked suburban satire with whispered backing vocals and a quotation of the song Little Boxes. The last verse, almost as a joke, lays on banjo, honky-tonk piano and an off-key horn section.

Tarnish seems to come from the perspective of a failed songwriter, who keeps talking about ‘golden’ objects and asks to be treated kindly. Closing track The Vulture (‘row, row, row the leaky boat, boys, life is but a dream!’) goes big on rhythm, from both drums and acoustic guitar, and ends the too-short album of American rock’n’roll with a flourish.

Trapper Schoepp – Siren Songs

Trapper Schoepp is a friend and former opening act for The Wallflowers, Frank Turner and The Jayhawks, who are three acts I admire a lot. He also had the keys to Cash Cabin, where he recorded his fifth album with the help of John’s grandson Joseph. Johnny’s old guitar and June’s old Steinway piano were available for use, which must be thrilling for any musician, and a harmonium organ anchors plenty of tracks. His brother Tanner (hey, if you’ve got a trapper, you need a tanner!) provides bass and vocals.

Whereas Dave Hause goes for rock’n’roll, Trapper opts for folk-rock, but what use are genres anyway in a genreless world? The album has a strong influence of traditional Irish music, which Trapper used as a balm during the pandemic.

Good Graces is in a dropped-D tuning and the melody sounds pentatonic and very folky, with a delightful solo from what sounds like pipes or a penny whistle. The pipes are also found on Secrets of the Breeze, a cautionary tale of voyaging at sea in a 12/8 time signature. Eliza is a companion piece: it’s a waltz with another marine connection, as the protagonist loses her dad to the waves and the song’s narrator says goodbye to her too (‘fare thee well…adieu’).

There’s a dotted rhythm melody (tum-ti, tum-ti like the theme to The Arches) on the wistful Anna Lee, where Trapper’s narrator hopes his former beloved is still available. Perhaps he met her at the 7 Mile Fair, which is the title of a reminiscin’ meet-cute in song whose arrangement matches how ‘the band played on’. His own band are on good form on The Fool, where Trapper’s vocals are double-tracked as he warns his listener to ‘play it cool’.

The range of topics on the album is impressive. Cliffs of Dover chronicles a soldier’s PTSD – there’s a reference to the ‘Baghdad Blues’ – while Devil’s Kettle is about a rock formation through which a river flows and rhymes the title with, among other things, ‘Soviet vessels’. Diocese is another toe-tapper with mandolin and piano soundtracking how the song’s formerly chaste protagonist ‘fell for the city of Boston/ with all the barflies she up and flew’.

Silk and Satin takes the topical trope of cross-dressing men in New York with ‘eye shadow and silicone’ set to a gentle acoustic arrangement. In the seventies this sounded seedy, but now it’s perfectly natural. That’s progress. Queen of The Mist documents another kind of progress: a woman’s passage over Niagara Falls while ensconced in a barrel. In another setting this could be a broadside ballad – the woman was Annie Edson Taylor who did the deed to raise money but alas died penniless – but Trapper has set the words to a three-chord shuffle.

The album ends with the track In Returning, with a Ben Folds-type piano part and another seafaring lyric (‘I gave myself to the Northern sea’). It’s good to see a songwriter so in touch with the waves, which makes this collection worth a listen.

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