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Monday, 11/27/06

Greg Trooper casts a simple spell with voice, wit

Live albums from Nashville artists tend to be of the big-scale variety, with stadium crowds screaming for Kenny Chesney, Alan Jackson or other stars.

Yet most live music, including some of the finest live music, takes place in simpler, humbler settings. Dozens of Nashville singer-songwriters make their living on the road, driving from town to town and putting on shows that feature nothing in the way of choreography, lighting or even backing musicians. It's the musicians' equivalent of a street-level fistfight, and Greg Trooper is one of those who's up for the fighting. The BackShop Live (produced by Matt Ranck) captures his performance last January at a small South Carolina room, where he delivered 16 songs and a few stories, armed with an acoustic guitar, a voice and his wits.

Those things provided a night that was more entertaining than most of our big-ticket, tour bus-riding artists are able to deliver. It's kind of like that Christmas morning that the Whos had down in Whoville after the Grinch stole the packages and boxes and bags: The simplicity, songs and spirit of the occasion were more valuable than all the accouterments we've come to expect. Trooper's a funny guy who tells good stories, but those are mostly there to set the table for words and melodies that don't necessarily set him in any recognizable commercial context, save for the amorphous "Americana" genre. His writing and singing are there for the listening, not the marketing. The BackShop album itself isn't in stores: It's available at http://www.gregtrooper.com/.

It's worth buying, too. Trooper has one line that goes "I think you're lonely as a Sunday morning that never had a Saturday night," and he has a song called "Muhammad Ali (The Meaning of Christmas)" that is all gentle, soulful sacrilege. " 'I am the greatest,' he said with a grin. 'He was talking about you, not about him,' " is a line from that one.

And then there's one called "When I Think of You My Friends" that celebrates the fellow songsmiths Trooper knows are spinning wheels towards other towns. For a moment, the listener wonders what other shows could have been going on that January night. But that's just for a moment, and then Trooper's spell is back in place.


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