Portland’s Blitzen Trapper isn’t afraid to cater to those who yearn for a return to rock’s golden age. Their success, however, can be largely credited to the fact that, at their best, they don’t just regurgitate sounds by their favorite bands from the ’70s, but rather synthesize a broad swath of influences into something that’s comfortingly familiar without becoming slavishly redolent of any one artist or sound.
Case in point: the opening title track of their eighth album, All Across This Land, which quickly ratchets up into a roiling froth of tightly synchronized dual-guitar riffage that recalls Lynyrd Skynyrd by way of the Black Crowes. Sure, a musical near-quote of Led Zeppelin’s “Over the Hills and Far Away” pops up in there at one point, but when a song rocks this hard, with guitar work this tight and delivered with such genuine enthusiasm (no indie-rock irony and detachment to be found here), it’s a lot easier to forgive something so imitative. As limiting as the practice is, there’s a reason people lament the day this kind of music fell out of favor.
Unfortunately, that kind of hot guitar action is largely absent on the rest of All Across This Land. Instead, singer-songwriter Eric Earley falls back on more subdued, and largely more generic, folksy Neil Young/Bob Dylanisms. He seems to invite such comparisons, considering the difference in timbre between the throaty growl he uses on “All Across This Land” and his nasal wheeze on, say, the effectively sparse, early-Dylan-style “Across the River.” “Cadillac Road” is, right down to its title, even more shamelessly evocative of one of Earley’s heroes, Bruce Springsteen.
In the midst of all this nostalgia, Earley’s wide-eyed lyrics about the good old days when rock n’ roll meant something can be forgiven when supported by shit-kicking country-tinged rock on “Rock and Roll (Was Made for You),” which sounds like a supercharged version of the Flying Burrito Brothers. But when he delivers clichéd lines like “We were stupid, strange, and young at heart/And all we wanted was to rock and roll” during what sounds like a Don Henley-meets-John Mellencamp B-side, “Nights Were Made for Love,” it should be enough to take at least some of the tint out of the rose-colored glasses with which you may be viewing the past.