Shortly after moving to Nashville, Trooper hooked up with fellow Jersey boy Garry Tallent, who produced his moving Noises In The Hallway album for D’Ville Records in 1996. Popular Demons, with Buddy Miller at the helm and guest appearances by Steve Earle and Emmylou Harris, followed on Koch in 1998. Despite minimal radio play, Trooper’s music earned accolades from the press and his peers. Over the years, his songs have been covered by Rosanne Cash, Maura O’Connell, Lucy Kaplansky, Billy Bragg, Tom Russell and Bill Lloyd.
For Straight Down Rain, Trooper hooked up with Eminent Records exec Steve Wilkison, formerly of the Texas label DejaDisc. “He had DejaDisc going when I was making Everywhere in New York; he wanted me to do a record with him then, but we were holding out for that ‘New York record deal,’ you know?” Trooper says with a laugh. “And then, when I got my deal with Koch, John Porter was the guy who signed me there, and John hired Steve, and Steve became sort of ‘my guy’ at Koch.
“Finally, when he came down here to run Eminent, and I was off of Koch, he said, ‘You’re free; let’s try to do a record.’ He’s by far the most comfortable and simpatico cat I’ve ever worked with on this level. He’s great, plus he loves music. And isn’t that a funny thing to make you stand apart from the crowd in the music business? It’s like I was saying about understanding how the music industry doesn’t work: Another reason it doesn’t work is that a lot of the guys running it don’t even have a record collection.”
Buddy Miller was initially slotted to produce Straight Down Rain, but scheduling conflicts kept pushing the project back. When similar conflicts arose with Gurf Morlix, Miller urged Trooper to consider Phil Madeira, an ace session musician with little front-line production experience. Eminent was initially reluctant, but some Madeira-produced demos of Greg’s material swept away all doubts.
“I’m really, really happy with it,” Trooper says of the album. “We went to places, musically, that I would never have gone to with other producers. ‘Doghouse’ and the things we did on ‘Staring Down The Night’ are so much different than anything I’ve done. There’s also stuff that’s familiar — you know, ‘loud folksinger Greg Trooper’ — but overall it rocks more than the last record. And I loved my last record, too, but I already made that one.”
Straight Down Rain does indeed rock more energetically than Popular Demons, which was a pretty darn cool record in its own right. But beyond that, as routinely sharp as Trooper’s previous output has been, there is a deep, abiding groove present wherein songs, lyrics, musicians and singers shift and move together with an elusive, copacetic ease that is the hallmark of a recording on which everything has fallen into place.
An avid, yet oddly bashful, body surfer, Jim Musser keeps his walrus-like body sleek and shiny with a diet of twice-cooked, Belgian-style fries in Iowa City, Iowa, as he awaits the arrival of the Perfect Wave. Meantime, he bleeds Cincinnati red and lives the blues.