Based in Wisconsin, Schoepp’s third album, Primetime Illusion, produced by Wilco’s Pat Sansone, boasts a co-write with Dylan in celebration of his hometown. Well, sort of. Closing the album, the waltztime ‘On, Wisconsin’ has its origins in news that, back in 1961, Dylan had written but never recorded a song about a homesick traveller pining for his home state. A former roommate unearthed the handwritten lyric and put it up for auction. Schoepp didn’t stump up the $30,000 asking price but he did see a photo of the words and set them to music, sending his arrangement to Dylan’s management, eventually getting consent to publish as a co-write.
It also served as a catalyst to start writing his own material again after going through a series of downers that included the end of a lengthy relationship being forced out of his home, suffering the recurrence of a hernia in his back and, worst of all, the election of Trump. All of which fed into the songs on this break-up album, both on a traditional level and also with his country.
It opens with the tribal drum thump of ‘Shakedown’, 12-string guitar ringing track that suggests Tom Petty constitutes a healthy percentage of his music collection. If that has a buoyant optimistic feel, he quickly sets that to lyrical rights with the fingersnapping rhythm and cascading chords melody of the infectious 60s-inflected ‘It’s Over’ (12-string again making is presence felt) and the piano-accompanied mid-tempo ballad ‘Drive-Thru Divorce’ where those Petty influences hold hands with Billy Joel.
Indeed, this is very much a pop album, jammed with catchy melodies, punchy riffs and hooks, taking a tougher, bluesier groove on ‘Freight Train’, wailing harmonica on the bopping Nicole Atkins collaboration ‘What You Do To Her’ and nodding to Free’s ‘All Right Now’ on the opening of the strutting ‘If All My Nines Were X’s’.
The soulfully sung ‘Sleight Of Hand’ shows the softer side musically, keys, harmonica, bass and tambourine providing the backdrop while spaghetti western twang chews on a cigar for ‘TV Shows’. At just over five minutes, introduced by a chugging guitar riff, ‘My Comrade’ is the longest cut, another big production nod to the sort of classic American rock’n’roll celebrated by bands like The Replacements, The Feelies and Soul Asylum. Sure, the Dylan connection may be news and attract the curious, but, actually it’s the least interesting number here on an album that ably demonstrates Schoepp has no need to ride anyone’s coattails.
Artist’s website: www.trapperschoepp.com
It has to be ‘On, Wisconsin’ – live in the studio: