Hailing from New Paltz in upstate New York, THE TRAPPS have spent five busy years building their reputation the old-fashioned way: gigging hard, crafting their songs and biding their time. It's paid off gradually, with accolades such as having tracks featured on Neil Young's Living With War website and being chosen as featured artists at the prestigious CMJ music conference coming their way in the wake of their debut album 'Good Luck & Goodbye' (2006).
Of course, we don't live in a world where the best records necessarily get heard. In the confines of an industry where supposed 'mainstream' artists are taking increasingly desperate measures to ensure they keep afloat, it's getting harder to trumpet bands who stick to their guns and put integrity first. Writing this review in the same week that the dreaded Lady Ga Ga is attempting to con her supporters into buying locks of her hair with her latest, it's important to remember there are still bands out there who primarily care about the content of their songs.
Well, the great news from this quarter is that The Trapps are such a band. They adopt the good, old-fashioned approach of emotive songs played with pride and panache and while this writer didn't catch 'Good Luck & Goodbye', its' timely follow-up is as good a place as any to get in the ring and check out The Trapps in detail.
Because 'Cheap Seats' cares for naught save presenting wall to wall quality. The Trapps' sound is broadly Roots-based, though Sean Schenker's finely-wrought songs are often in tune with great pop and usually offer memorable hooks. It also does their case no harm that Schenker sings with a clear and charismatic voice, or that rhythm section Jason Sarrubi (bass) and Seth Moutal (drums, percussion) play with both drive and/ or subtlety as required. Then there's The Trapps' secret weapon: lead guitarist Warren Gold. During the course of these twelve tracks, he switches from Albert Lee fluidity to Paul Kossoff soul to John Perry flash without ever sounding indulgent or excessive and his remarkable playing is frequently something to behold.
Material-wise, The Trapps have it all sewn up. They can pivot between tension and release on Wilco-style outings like 'Hope', stretch out on expansive piano ballads like 'Say My Name' (which also finds room for a funky, almost Santana-ish mid-section without ever losing the plot) or serve up poignant paeans to keeping on keeping on ('Never Quit') which are all too easy to relate to.
Despite the band's gritty, Americana-tinged sound, the only obviously 'Country'-sounding track is 'Lullaby',where dobro and pattering railroad rhythms combine to great effect. Elsewhere, instruments such as pedal steel, violin and organ complement the band's warm, rich sound, taking songs like the dreamy 'Too Late to Play Games' or the Neil Finn-ish sway of 'Everything Good is Gone' to a different level entirely. Indeed, such is the strength of The Trapps' material that even their occasional departures are of interest. The one track here not penned by Sean Schenker is 'Chasing Bees', written by drummer Seth Moutal. I had wondered if it would be a 'Moby Dick-style outing, but it's actually an atmospheric percussion-based piece which reminds me of Stewart Copeland's work on the 'Rumblefish' soundtrack.
Even though it's not a 'song' as such it's still weirdly alluring. There again, it's also sandwiched between two of the album's finest moments: 'Feelin' The Light' and the closing 'The Return'. There's a distinctly redemptive edge to 'Feelin' The Light', but the celebratory feel of the sound juxtaposes nicely with the self-doubt of Schenker's lyrics (“where will I be tomorrow? I have no idea”) and the way the music moves from gentle ballad-strum to full on gale when Gold brings on the heavy artillery is little short of breathtaking. 'The Return' pulls off a similar trick in that it starts off spare and intimate, but finally opens out into a wonderful swoon of a thing where sighs of pedal steel and golden harmonies work to perfection. By the time you've taken in the wisdom of Schenker's world-weary lyric (“all the bumps and bruises make you who you are”) the band have worked their magic and you're keen to go back to the start and enjoy the whole thing all over again.
The Trapps, then, really are quite a find. They are the sort of band who – if such methods still existed – would be nurtured through several great albums before hitting serious commercial paydirt and we'd have to then begin saying (correctly) that we always loved them even before they sold enormous amounts of records. Here's hoping there's still a label and A&R department out there willing to put in the time, because this album suggests the investment would be more than worth it. In the meantime, you can keep Lady Ga Ga's hair. Such tacky trinkets count for very little when you're engrossed by the band playing their hearts out to the 'Cheap Seats'.