It's been a busy year for Milwaukee band Trapper Schoepp & The Shades. Back in July, independent label SideOneDummy, the Los Angeles-based home of bands such as The Gaslight Anthem, Flogging Molly, Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band, and 7 Seconds, announced that it would give the band's well-received 2011 disc Run, Engine, Run an international reissue. In September, the album's title track was featured by Rolling Stone, and another track bowed on CMT Edge the day before the album re-emerged on both vinyl and CD.
Pretty cool for a pair of early-20-somethings -- Trapper is joined by brother Tanner on bass -- only a couple years removed from beginnings in the rural community of Ellsworth.
The brothers Schoepp are joined in the current lineup by lead guitarist Graham Hunt and drummer Jon Phillip, late of bands such as The Benjamins and Limbeck. Phillip is also co-founder of Good Land Records, which initialy released Run, Engine, Run. According to the Shades' bio, former members David Boigenzahn and Gina Romantini also still play with the band at times, and both contribute to the album; Romantini's violin parts in particular add an extra dimension to the arrangements, à la Lonesome Jubilee-era John Mellencamp.
While the players may have changed since the group formed as high schoolers, at the center remains Trapper Schoepp's songwriting chops and confident lead vocals.The tracks collected on Run, Engine, Run synthesize influences of classic rock and rootsy singer-songwriters into an organic whole that sounds welcomingly familiar without being a carbon of any particular forebear. It's meat 'n potatoes Midwestern rock that's not afraid to mix in some twang, and thankfully devoid of trendy synth bloops or electronic beats.
Schoepp's songs are successful because he's grown into a perceptive storyteller, able at transforming introspection or observation into a song that has universal appeal. The listener gets involved, whether it be the anthemic title song's autobiographical re-telling of how the brothers came by the car pictured on the back cover, or a consideration of final musings of a death row prisoner. Perhaps my favorite lines are a pair of couplets in "Pins and Needles," which may not make sense unless one has spent some time in a hospital recently: "Mouth is dry, legs weak/IV's running like a creek/On a scale of one to ten/please don't ask me that again."
Run, Engine, Run also backs up the songwriting by being a very tightly played and well sequenced album, counterplaying the Americana-leaning numbers against the more rocking songs in such a way that the transitions are never jarring. The very limited vinyl version is a nice package, with a gatefold sleeve including all the lyrics and a thick white vinyl disc. The one thing I would say about the vinyl is that, while it is much ballsier sounding than the digital version (the download, at least), some of that punch is at the expense of occasional muddiness.
It's something I've noticed occasionally on modern LPs: the sound is somewhat sibilant and distorted at low volumes but improves the louder it gets. I tried it out with a few different cartridges and got the same result. So, word to the wise: Crank it up! Either way, I'm just glad this excellent album is now on vinyl.
Trapper Schoepp & The Shades are on the road coast to coast for the rest of 2012, including dates with Reverend Peyton and The Wallflowers. A Madison date with Jakob Dylan and company is coming up at the Majestic Theatre on Monday, October 29. (SideOneDummy SD1510-12012; with download card)