Greg Trooper has built a reputation as a solid singer/songwriter whose works have been covered by everyone from Billy Bragg to Steve Earle and Vince Gill. Though he hails from New Jersey, he's lived between Nashville and Austin long enough to be considered a local in both places. He's recorded four previous albums, and has written the single greatest remembrance song in history -- "Every Single Day" -- and is loved by pretty much everybody who plies his craft. In other words, the guy has developed his talent over time and his previous recordings to finally deliver the album he always dreamed he'd record. That record is Straight Down Rain. Trooper gets to the root of what he has always been yet never completely accepted: a rock & roll songwriter who likes the raw, stinging tone of a Fender Telecaster and the punch of a drum kit to go with occasional pedal steel guitars and fiddles. Produced by Phil Madeira and starring drummer Kenny Blevins, guitarist David Jacques, and a host of guests that include Julie Miller, Bill Lloyd, Fats Kaplan, and Maura O'Connell. The set opens with "Nothin' but You," a rocker in the East Coast tradition with twin ringing guitars, a solid if jazzed up backbeat by Blevins, and a B-3 to pump the groove along. It's a lovelorn road song, which is only fitting on a rock record. But when he gets to the line "I've got more fear than wisdom/I've got fences to mend/You've got an ocean of reasons/To let this chapter end/When I pull in tomorrow/And I reach for your hand/Will you turn away and wonder/What's the point in starting this thing over again," you can feel his doubt and confusion. Still, he rises to a simple but staggering truth in the refrain: "I saw absolutely nothin', absolutely nothin' but you." The humility and simplicity in this statement tears down all the divisions that exist between the lover and the loved. They both want the same thing, though the cost is high. This is followed by a genuine 21st century rock & roll anthem. No, there is no contradiction between "rock" and "anthem" in the 21st century, and this track proves it. "Staring Down the Night" is a track where in the mirror you face your desolation and shortcomings and wear them like colors on the sleeve. There are swaggering guitars to be sure, but there is also a layered, triggered drum loop. Trooper has a knack for taking huge emotions, ambiguous life and love situations, and presenting them in a manner simple and crafty enough to be songworthy, yet free enough from artifice to remain honest. He's mature enough to let the crap slide to the other end of the bar and curious enough to let it come near him in the first place. The sequencing of this is stunning. The third track is "Real Like That," a bona fide country-rock love song with Miller's gorgeous voice shining through on the refrain. Trooper employs many facets of the rock & roll terrain on Straight Down Rain. He can be greasy, funky, and swaggering ("Doghouse"), folksy ("You Love Your Broken Heart"), and straight-ahead ("Sometimes It Takes a Hurricane"), but he always comes off as the real thing. There isn't a forced moment on this set. His songs find a crack in their spines and turn in on themselves to touch a side of the story previously unconsidered. As a songwriter, this makes Trooper courageous. He is not merely a confessionalist, nor is he an idealist: His protagonists are nagged by doubt and the contradictions they find within themselves. Yet, they have no choice but to see it through another day with the sliver of hope necessary to find, if not redemption, then another sliver to make it greater than the sum of that doubt, and to narrow the space between those contradictions. This is real songwriting by a writer who takes life as it is and makes no attempt to turn it into something greater than it already is. Why? Because he knows just how great it is already. Straight Down Rain is a watermark Trooper will be judged against from now on. It is inspired, emotionally foolhardy, roadwise, chock full of amazing hooks and melodies, and reflects the stuff of life with the consideration of a man and the swagger of a kid looking for a Saturday night thrill. Straight Down Rain is awesome.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek