Sunday, July 30, 2006

Chris Trapper, Jon Auer CD reviews

Washington Post, Friday, May 5, 2006; Page WE08

CHRIS TRAPPER "Gone Again" Independent

JON AUER"Songs From the Year of Our Demise" Pattern 25

THE WAY Chris Trapper tells it, he was feeling jaded and uninspired when he ran across an old jazz cassette and hatched a plan to record with some Dixieland-style musicians. The result suggests that he has overcome his creative block. "Gone Again" sets the strut and embellishments of the Wolverine Jazz Band's Boston-area musicians who, as Trapper says in his liner notes, "play a lost art" to Trapper's own droll songs. He's a fellow who declares to a lover: "Don't need caviar and wine/Burger King will be just fine."

Ignoring the cheeky, postmodern swing resurgence of the 1990s, Trapper, of the Push Stars, sounds like the 21st-century young popster he is. The dark humor of songs such as "Nowhere," a tale of a groom's night out gone wrong, makes for a perfect bridge between Trapper's modern sensibilities and the sunny-side optimism of horns, piano, banjo and percussion. And "Boston Girl" connects last century's patter and talking blues with hip-hop rhyming: Only the jitterbug rhythm and Tijuana Brass-sounding chorus make the difference.

Just for good measure, Trapper throws in a few quiet, contemplative numbers such as the sweet lap-steel-washed "Jukebox Lights."

Fellow power-popster Jon Auer of the Posies and Big Star similarly revels in emotional dissonance on the ponderously titled "Songs From the Year of Our Demise." "Six Feet Under," which initially sounds like a 1950s last-kiss ballad via Coldplay, gets weird quickly, as Auer's slightly strained tenor assures, "But it's OK and it's all right/We can dig our graves tonight."

"Cemetery Song," "Adios," "The Year of Our Demise"? There's no Dixieland here, not even for a jazz funeral, but lush arrangements and Auer's enthusiastic performance buoy what might otherwise be perilously close to a suicide note. Like Warren Zevon and Richard Thompson, he's pretty funny when he's nasty: "It's hard to say who's the one to blame," he begins in "Four Letter Word," then has no trouble deciding, "I guess it'd be you now." All the while, a pounding piano and baroque chords loom like a posse behind his supremely miffed jiltee. Slashing and burning seldom sounds so pretty.

-- Pamela Murray Winters

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