Album Review: Trigger Hippy (2013)

In his cooking memoir “Heat” Bill Bruford writes about legendary late-night dinners in New York City, where accomplished chefs would cook for each other and drink, smoke and tell war stories until the break of dawn. With no customers to cater to and no critics to sway the Chefs were free to just do their thing. They could experiment. They could impress their peers. They could fail. But most importantly, they could remember when the art of cooking was their passion, before it became their life, their business and their master.

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In today’s modern music scene, too many “artists” are using music as a means to an end. They want the fame. They want the money. But they don’t care about the song.

The song is all that should matter! The song that reflects our past, defines our present, and provides a signpost to the future. The song has nothing to do with genre or success and everything to do with sincerity and human expression. The song is why we love music.

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Individually the members of Trigger Hippy have nothing to prove.

Founder Steve Gorman helped to propel The Black Crowes to the top of the charts, produced one of the greatest rock albums ever (“The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion”) and proved himself to be one of the few living drummers capable of holding John Bonham’s sticks.

His partner in rhythm Nick Govrik is the band’s secret weapon, a funky bassist who writes songs that stop you cold and demand your attention.

Singer Joan Osborne burst on the scene by adding an entry to the Great American Songbook (“One of Us”), and then proceeded to bring her strong soulful voice to a variety of styles and songs. Whether originals or covers, Joan brings it every time, usually improving upon the template. And then she became a part of the Grateful Dead family and resurrected the long-neglected Pigpen blues tunes, literally blowing everyone’s minds and expectations.

Jackie Greene does it all. He can play anything with strings, plus keys and harp. He’s an amazing songwriter (cue up “Love Song; 2:00 am” sometime) but best of all is that voice. To listen to Jackie sing is to realize how rare truly brilliant rock singers are. His voice is smooth, it’s strong, it’s expressive, it’s soulful and it’s sweet.

Lead guitarist Tom Bukovac is a classic “you don’t know him but you’ve definitely heard him” guy. A musician’s musician, Tom is the hottest session player in the business, winning industry award after award, while staying in the shadows. His work with Trigger Hippy will shine some richly-deserved light on his skills.

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With the Record Store Day release of their self-titled debut, Trigger Hippy makes a great first impression. While only containing four songs (all originals) the EP shows many facets of the band while hinting at future possibilities and leaving us desperate for more.

The lead single “Turpentine” kicks things off with the band’s signature – the twin vocals of Joan & Jackie. Listening to them makes you wonder why more bands don’t explore the male/female vocal combination. Joan and Jackie blend together magnificently and the possibilities are endless. The song itself is a fun, upbeat tune with guitars both crunchy and ringing and a trippy summertime vibe. Best of all, you can hear plenty of space for this tune to explode in a live setting.

Next up is “Heartache on the Line” which is a gorgeous ballad. Even with a slow dance the band flexes its muscles, with Gorman hitting hard, a soulful organ, and layers of sounds that build into a cohesive whole. Of course Jackie & Joan deliver another stellar vocal performance.

Things get a little funkier with “Pocahantas”, which has a little “Trampled Underfoot” vibe going on and short but effective guitar and keyboard solos in the middle.

Closing out the set is “Ain’t Persuaded Yet” a bluesy story-song that really lets Joan and the rhythm section shine. Nick lays down a sweet bass line, Gorman thunders and the guitar very subtly steps back to create an ominous atmosphere.

All four tracks are great and will garner multiple listens. Based on my own predilection for weepy country-rockers, “Heartache on the Line” will be in heavy rotation. I can’t hear that song enough, which is always the true sign of success for me.

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For a new band Trigger Hippy exudes an astonishing level of confidence and polish. There’s no holding back and no half-measures. They just go for it on every song. It’s the type of music that works as pleasant background music but also rewards careful listening. Focusing on the individual parts reveals just how perfectly constructed these tunes are, how they come together with intent and purpose.

I’m excited to see where Trigger Hippy takes us next. The blues as a genre has long been dormant, with much celebration of the past but little innovation. Yet here’s a blues band that is changing the formula by adding soulful voices, a funky bass, and a drummer that swings to the expected guitar virtuosity.

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In my mind there are musicians gathered around a table, late at night after the gig’s over and the fans have gone home, sharing a meal, a drink and a smoke and talking about music. Not about their careers, but about their passion, their inspiration and their ideas. They’re excited about music and remembering why they walked down such a crazy path in the first place. And at that table are Steve, Jackie, Joan, Nick & Tom, dreaming up a vision for Trigger Hippy, a band built on passion, love and mutual respect.

(By the way, I’m also at that table, spreading good vibes. Hey, it’s my dream after all).

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