April 10, 2014
Milwaukee hipsters rejoice, there’s another new folk/bluegrass act in town. The Lousy Trouts recently debuted with their album, “The Guy Who Gave Everything Away but Sold His Boat”, and it’s a strong showing, that, much like the title, combines grandiosity and grassroots.
Within moments of listening one realizes that texture changes define the album, both in each song and especially between the various tracks. This is no surprise when you see that each of the Trouts plays multiple instruments, and that there are four guest musicians adding cello, fiddle, slide guitar and female vocals. The fiddle is always a great addition, especially in the sauntering “Statues.” The cello and occasionally bowed bass add much needed warmth to the otherwise picking heavy mix of guitar and mandolin. Meanwhile, the percussion reigns in the aptly named “Bongo Song.” The most consistent instrument, and the most expertly played, recorded, and mixed, is Alex Heaton’s bass. In another non-surprise, Heaton also assumed recording and mixing duties. When listening to a self-produced album, listen for the instrument that received the most detail, and I guarantee that’s the musician responsible for the full mix, though that’s not necessarily a good or bad thing.
The album’s more convincing tracks are marked by lead singer Jack Tell’s wild vocals, influenced by bluegrass tenor wailings, but undeniable rooted in distressed and glam rock of the 2000s. The backup vocals unfortunately often fall flat of this fervor, and sometimes drag the energy of the songs down when they enter. Though the innocent, organ and bells driven “Departure” is a well written, ballad, the band clearly excels when energy is a primary driver.
Amidst all of the innovative orchestration and songwriting, the song that shines the most is the very straightforward “Savior.” The bass takes a back seat as the primary driver, leaving room for a thumping bass drum, and the banjo, mandolin, and guitar converge in bluegrass rhythms as those instruments best do. If the Trouts can add this level of polish and musicianship to their original arrangements, they’ll surely be a promising band to follow.