Skid Roper & the Whirlin' Spurs

Trails Plowed Under

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Who knew that inside the musical half of the Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper duo, there was a roots fusion artist struggling to get out? After most of a decade playing silent Teller to Nixon's Penn Jillette, Skid Roper formed the Whirlin' Spurs to release an infectious album of roots rock and cowboy music. Take note -- not country music, but stuff heavily influenced by Rex Allen and the Sons of the Pioneers. The title cut, a lament about the death of the old West, is a delightful piece of Americana that shows off Skid's creditable cowboy vocals and, in particular, his excellent harmonizing with Jayne Robson. It's a complete departure from anything he ever did with his pal Mojo, and as such a declaration of independence. Skid shows rare good sense in not taking that newfound freedom too far and trying to do everything -- he and the Whirlin' Spurs are a real band, and he uses their expertise throughout this album. Jayne Robson actually gets a couple of the most delicious vocal turns, including the sultry "Johnny on the Spot," a song which boasts splendid wordplay. There's nothing here that even tries to duplicate the loony anthems that Skid played with Nixon, and that undoubtedly hurt the sales of this album -- critics and fans measured it against their expectations, rather than taking it for what it was. The fact that it was released on a label best known for punk rock and ska rather than roots rock probably didn't help. Taken on its own merits, Trails Plowed Under ranks as a unique and enjoyable work. If this album had been given a bit more support, it might well have spawned some radio gems and a new fan base for Skid and company.

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