The work of the singer-songwriter Ernest Troost first came to my attention last year via Susie Glaze and the Hilonesome Band’s excellent album White Swan, which I reviewed for PopMatters. That record featured two brilliant Troost-penned tracks which were, for me, among the highlights of the album: the murderer’s lament “Evangeline” and the superb family saga “Harlan County Boys.” A year later, Troost has released a new album of his own, O Love, a record that finds him supplementing his brand of country, blues and folk-influenced Americana with a rockier flavour and a vibrant full-band sound.
The results prove compelling. Troost has a warm, empathetic vocal style that pulls the listener into the songs but can also turn assertive and gritty when need be. And, supported by a sterling group of musicians, plus beautiful harmony vocals from Nicole Gordon, he’s crafted an album that flows smoothly but not blandly and that boasts several terrific tracks, the best of them rooted in narrative and character. The striking, punchy opener “Old Screen Door” pieces together vivid, disturbing images of family conflict, while the driving title track slides from despair to possible redemption. The twanging “Weary Traveller” and the portentous “Storm Comin’” are both infectious and there are also memorable love songs that manage to be heartfelt while skirting sappiness: the lovely “Close” and the elegant “The Last To Leave” are the finest of these.
Troost takes “Harlan County Boys” slower and more delicately than Glaze and co’s brisker bluegrass-inflected take, making the song an intimate family portrait, economical but rich in its evocation of place and character, and one that ranks alongside the likes of Richard Shindell’s “Reunion Hill” as a contemporary folk classic that's at once specific in its detail and yet timeless and universal in its evocation of loss and endurance. In sum, an honest, humane and ultimately heart-warming record from a fine artist.
O Love is available on Travelin’ Shoes records from 29th April. Further information here.