I was standing outside the Mucky Duck in late February when co-owner Teresa Andrews looked up from her rocking-chair guard post and asked, "Have you heard Greg Trooper's new album?" I hadn't, so she insisted that husband Rusty rummage through the car for a copy. "I think it's just the sexiest record," she said.
Make It Through this World, Greg Trooper's eighth album, finds the Nashville artist teaming up with legendary writer-producer Dan Penn, and the result is a subtle, cohesive record that lies in that beautiful land between Hank Williams's gut and Otis Redding's heart. It's a blue-eyed soul record that recalls folks like Delbert McClinton and the criminally obscure Richard Ferreira, but it also has its Bob Dylanish moments.
Penn produced the Boxtops' smash hit "The Letter," wrote their follow-up hit, "Cry Like a Baby," and also wrote such soul classics as "Dark End of the Street," "Sweet Inspiration" and Aretha Franklin's "Do Right Woman." A seminal figure in soul music, Penn is a producer musicians will line up to play with, and he assembled a session band for Trooper's record that reads like a Fantasy League roster: legendary guitarist Bill Kirchen, McClinton keyboardist Kevin McKendree, drummer Kenneth Blevins (John Hiatt) and bassist David Jacques (John Prine). For its rich atmospherics, the album leans heavily on McKendree's B-3, which matches up perfectly with Trooper's chick-magnet bedroom vocals. Blevins and Jacques find those quiet but solid Southern grooves, and Kirchen holds back on his usual fireworks with some of the tastiest work in his storied career.
With a new record on the shelves, all Trooper has to do now is live up to the "sexiest record" hype when he appears at the Duck Saturday night. Now that's some pressure.