That ex-bandmate Jay Lindsey appears on a couple of tracks (drums on “The Picture Looks So Small” and drums and guitars on “Mosquitoes”) suggests some of these songs may have been intended for a next Lost Sounds album that never happened. Trout plays most of the rest of the instruments on the record, and the switch from a band dynamic to a solo one results in the loss of musical fireworks you’d expect.
Though Tronic Blanc lacks the interpersonal struggle that made last year’s Lost Sounds such a sonic high, the solo route offers its own rewards. For instance, this sounds like a much more personal record than what Trout proffered in previous musical incarnations. How much the songs on Tronic Blanc are directed toward Trout’s ex-bandmate(s) is a bit of guesswork psychoanalysis I’d rather not engage in, but the “you” that Trout addresses in these songs seems more specific than the mass societal clones targeted in so many Lost Sounds songs.
“I cut my arms for you/And then I cut my scars for you yeah baby I can take the torture/Hey baby, I can bleed for you,” Trout sings on “Torture Torture,” picking up the same lyrical trope a few songs later on “Take the Bad and Make It Turn Good”: “I cut my scars for you/And then you walk away/You broke the Golden Rule/So what more can I say/Waste of time and waste of tears.”
This break-up-record content dovetails with a longtime Lost Sounds concern: losing one’s individuality. But where previously the fear seemed to be that of pressured conformity, on Tronic Blanc it seems to be one of voluntary emotional shutdown. You can hear it on “This Heart Is Now Aluminum,” which begins with Trout looking back to a better day: “Yesterday, I held your hand/I was a human who understands.” The theme is continued on the very next track, “Modulated Simulated” (the album’s lone cover, from indie obscurity Digital Leather), where Trout sings, “I’m not a machine/But I don’t feel pain/Will you turn me on?/Would you help me sing?”
Trout puts this potential downer of a song-cycle across with the musical acumen we’ve come to expect. The whiplash, menacing keyboard riff and theatrical shriek of a vocal that launches “You’re Gonna See Me” gives way to a ghostly, orchestral coda.
The album’s penultimate track, “On the Way Downtown,” offers the album’s brightest music and most open-hearted vocal, but even it isn’t totally without menace: “That Mississippi is a life-stealing monster/And I would die if you were washed away/Don’t go/Don’t go to the river by yourself,” Trout pleads to a “you” that seems to inspire considerably more affection. It could be a new beginning or just a memory of better times.
Lynn Cardona’s Lovin’ You (Knockdown South; Grade: B+) also addresses songs of romantic complication to an unnamed “you,” but it has less to do with sorting through the wreckage than pining for an unrequited object of affection. “I ain’t got nobody baby, no one to hold me tight The only man I ever loved/Never loved me/That’s all right,” Cardona sings on the lead track, “Over You.”
A jazz-schooled vocalist who has been performing live locally for the past few years, Cardona incorporates elements of soul, rock, and hip-hop (her scat vocals sometimes erupt into full-blown raps) into the mix on this debut and comes off sounding more than a little like a Bluff City Jill Scott. She’s helped along with the able support of a backing band where Jonathan Wires’ acoustic bass and Paul Morelli’s occasional horn fills particularly stand out. The album was recorded at Jimbo Mathus’ Clarksdale Delta Recording Service and released on his Knockdown South label.
Having gone national on a Chili’s television commercial since his last local album, Memphis harmonica king Billy Gibson returns to the blues on the new eponymous release from The Billy Gibson Band (Inside Sounds; Grade: B). Having established his softer, more sophisticated side on earlier solo releases, here Gibson is joined by backing band David Bowen (guitar), James Jackson (bass), and Cedric Keel (drums) for what amounts to a honking session with Gibson’s “Mississippi saxophone” placed front and center, though Gibson also does double-duty as singer. The opening “Down Home” could be the new Beale Street theme song, but the highlights are the slinky, funky “Home at Last,” the Staxlike “Love Everybody,” and the Mose Vinson cover “Tell It Like It Is.”