This is as solo as one gets for a solo album – just Zak Trojano singing and accompanying himself on a Martin or Weissenborn lap steel guitar. The Rusty Belle co-founder’s third solo album has low open C modal tuning on any guitar he uses, and foundationally has simple arrangements for lyrics that aren’t necessarily complex, but cinematic in scope. His warm voice is easy to listen to, and his songs which run the gamut from seemingly intimate coffee house fare to more vibrant guitar sounds, suggest you just put everything aside, close the door, turn the lights down, and put those damn headphones on.
Remember those amazing John Fahey, Leo Kottke, or Kelly Joe Phelps albums? If you’re a fan of them, you’ll be digging into this one. Trojano’s fingerstyle technique was born out of the country blues tradition and besides Fahey, owes its style to Chet Atkins and Merle Travis. His guitar was sent through various amplifiers to meld the acoustic and electric properties into a dark, even sound courtesy of producer David Good rich (Chris Smither, Jeffrey Foucault) and engineer Justin Piaaoferratto (Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth).
As Trojano gained more experience with solo performances, he began to fashion a different kind of writing. These songs were written as movements to a larger piece, with themes resurfacing throughout the album to hold it together. A wolf tree is a stoic figure – a passed over remnant of a distant wilder world where there were more open spaces. These nine songs ask us to admire the beauty we have before us as well as what preceded it. That’s Trojano’s best prescription for looking forward.
The album opens with “Kid’s Got Heart,” as if this is a screenshot (Polaroid in an older time) of modern day with lines like these – “the poets take it on the chin for the bells that ring right through you.” It gets a bit darker with “Nowhere Shuffle,” chiding us a bit for our addictions to electronic devices. “My Room” deals with the vicissitudes of solitude as one ponders the value of feeling safe and unbothered with the reality they are alone. Maybe it’s even an ode to escape per these lyrics – “I’ll be fine here in my room while the roses bloom outside/how come they never come to me unless they’re cut down in their prime? I’ll bide my time.” The captivating chords and guitar lines in “Everyone Knows Your” speaks to you know who – everybody is famous and somehow the worst has risen to the top, epitomizes by this line –” it’s the march of the egg man/boiled and white/pale as a junkie at noon watch him roll.”
The title track searches for roots, for an anchor as its melody, like so many here, linger in your head. “Young Surrender” brings the tempo up with its indelible chorus, “Wild, wild child of the world.” Trojano next returns to a brooding mood for “Paper Wings” before closing with the lullaby-like, dreamy “Lights Are Low,” perhaps his best vocal on the album.
Trojano resides in that tightly-knit group of Massachusetts singer-songwriters that includes Smither, Foucault, Kris Delmhorst, and Peter Mulvey. Take notice. Trojano’s tuned his guitars down low to frame his messages and stories. One listen just isn’t enough.
- Jim Hynes