Captured live in June 2000 at the renowned Pine Hill Farm house-concert venue in Durham, North Carolina, this between-releases informal recording turns out to be a very comfortable platform for the funny and sad, straight-on and quirky, uniformly intimate music of singer-songwriter Greg Trooper.
A New Yorker long since transplanted to Nashville, Trooper is not so much urban as urbane country, and the stripped-down but often twangy setting here — simple guitar and harmonica, plus electric guitar and mandolin from Michael McAdam — is captured effectively by producer Eric Ambel.
Trooper’s last Buddy Miller-produced album finished with a duet with Steve Earle on a Dylan song, but his own more controlled vocal style, demonstrated amply here again and again, proves you don’t have to have a raspy voice to deliver that scruff-rock effectively. Trooper sings with a clarity of purpose and a variety of effect that few in the acoustic world match right now.
The seventeen tunes in this set include signature songs such as “Biologically Blue”, “We Won’t Dance” and “Cumberland Square”; he has a special facility for love songs about nearly successful, or failed but worthwhile, or ambiguously continuous relationships. (In the case of “Cumberland”, the news is bad — so the tune perks up!) The emblematic Trooper titles here are surely “Halfway” and “Lovin’ Never Came That Easy”.
Strong as Trooper is in the gray areas, listeners are bound to be especially taken with the wickedly funny stuff. His idea of an uplifting Nashville love anthem is the new “Take The Gun Out Of Your Mouth”, and his party song is “Another Shitty Saturday Night”.
Even when he turns to the political sphere in “Everywhere”, narrated by a dead vet for a dead Asian buddy, co-written with Sid Griffin and covered by Bill Bragg, we get Trooper’s combination of etched, riveting specifics of the situation and emotional complexity. And not many can pull that off at all.