By Renee Collins Cobb, M.Ed. and Warren Cobb, B.A.
For most artists, 2020 has been a very creative time - but - time is also very sadly slipping away. To release an album during a time of pandemic is a bold and courageous move on behalf of the artist and one that fans of Kentucky music most appreciate as it not only energizes the base, but it also provides them with a most reflective and meaningful way to pass the time while we wait. To make the agonizing decision to actually wait to release an album after it has been completed presents a challenge with what to do with all of the songs that are in “waiting” for the next album. As I personally reflect on these decisions after speaking to many musicians faced with the same decisions, an interesting thought emerges to the forefront of my mind in how we might find value in making connections to what we are experiencing during these times likening it to the roots of a tree. It takes a long time to realize the benefits of “roots” as most of the hard work and success lies underneath the ground in a place where we cannot witness the beauty and power that is emerging from the ground…only to make a gradual appearance….as the root surfaces from the ground in efforts to grow into something new, exciting bold and strong.
Since the remarkable passing of time since 2015, Trippin Roots, a band whose early origins or “roots” were planted in an acoustic duo of Evan Curan on Vocals/ Guitar and Zac Day on Cajon, not only has the band “sprouted” extra members in brothers Andy and Aaron White, but the band’s overall sound has grown and matured as well. The seeds were planted, the “roots” for the foundation were being formed and the sprout emerged from underground into visible sight. Local venues, radio shows, and Kentucky music fans gradually started to take notice when they gradually found themselves on various music platforms, on the news, over the air, and their feet…firmly planted feet on Kentucky musical ground.
The word “modern” is most commonly defined as “having a style that is newer and different from older, more traditional styles” and in regards to that definition's applicability for its use in the title of Trippin Roots EP “Modern Man” – we see the essence of all of those elements, which started as small seeds planted in the ground - starting to rise about the surface as the band paved a most proper way from the early origins of their debut album to their sophomore release. The band’s ability to adapt, to bridge and transition to any platform, on any stage, and in any time in history- has proven to be the single most key success factor to their "virtual" and "live in concert" success to date.
If you have already been listening to Trippin Roots- a band who calls Versailles, KY their home -for any amount of time, then you already love and appreciate what they bring to the musical table ranging from their overall presentation, to what they are capable of serving up at any given time for their fans who are seated around a very crowded, yet socially distanced virtual table. Whether it is in the studio, on a Zoom open mic, at an outdoor concert at The Burl, on a radio show, on a stage or performing in the first Drive In Concert at a local winery during the Covid era- they consistently deliver a high quality and memorable listening experience and live performance…each and every time.
Since the release of their first album- “Waiting for the Fall”- I have been anxiously “waiting” for their trip back to Sneak Attack – the recording studio with a most genius and highly respected producer in Jason Groves - who catapulted this band to the forefront of every Kentucky music lover’s mind with a heroic and energizing first album in “Waiting for the Fall” -ultimately leading to the production of their second release titled “Modern Man”.
The 2020 Lexington Music Awards brought honors to both Groves, as Best Studio/ Recording Engineer, and Trippin Roots, as Best Americana/Folk Act – a highly coveted category since Tyler Childers was honored in the same award in 2017. As a result of these combined efforts, which are inclusive of the energy, initiative, drive and passion, quality and care put forth in the proper capture of perfectly balanced harmonies, vocals that project above and in front of the blended instrumental synergies, complex rhythms, and the proper presentation of songwriting that has taken place since their first release – all making “Modern Man” not only a “must have” in your album collection, but a “go to” in feeding the musical soul at any point in your life where music is needed to process, heal or help us cope with the cards we have been dealt in 2020.
All throughout “Modern Man” we have the opportunity to truly experience how the complex nature of emotion “shows up “ in music. In many ways, Trippin Roots’ challenges listeners in ways that others attempt to do but most often fall short. As a classically trained musician, I am not sure if there is a proper musical term for songs whose words are “sad” but the melodies present as “happy” –but this band perfectly presents what I will call a “lyrical dissonance” or a “bittersweet” feel for the purpose of describing what I interpret to be happening in the theming of the tracks on Modern Man.
Where has your Modern Man gone?
This is a most powerful and insightful way to open the musical mind to what is in store for the rest of this musical showcase which leaves the listener with a exclamation point carrying with it underlying themes and musical presentation of varying time meters accompanied with the injection of syncopated rhythms- most competently captured and interpreted by percussionist Andy White. White, throughout the entire album, manages a process that is not intended to be the most common of time meters use straight 4/4 -but also captures the themes of emotional tension, anger, fear, anxiety and resolution in the way he uses the beat and the meter in having a conversation with the other instruments. I felt an 80s vibe during this song which challenges us to answer the question “Where has the modern man gone?” The good news? ...They are right here....Now we take a walk with them through the woods and back to that "roots" theme.
In “Fall Without a Sound” – another question is offered in attempts to answer a most proverbial question in pursuit of an answer while simultaneously describing the fall of a relationship. As in true life, one question often leads to another question – this song in itself yields those same beautiful and painful results in the engagement of asking another question – the one that asks if it even matters to someone who is engaged in such a relationship.
“The silence is deafening –When your tree falls, I won’t be there to hear it. When you fall down, it won’t make a sound”
This one is scripted with words that are passionate, angry, soulful and with a rock driven melody and beat with the instrumental track providing us with a feeling that a storm is coming on that will blow the tree down that is without proper “roots” to keep it stable. A musical tension driven by counterpoint in the individual instrumental staves of this song create a conflicted feeling of empowerment in a life circumstance combined with a feeling one’s entire life might collapse with just one single strong wind, and if it does collapse, will it even matter?
“You take the property, the house is built on sand. I'll keep that drink in my hand"
It is really hard to declare a favorite track on “Modern Man” but I have to admit to feeling incredibly drawn to not only the title of “Built on Sand” but also to the entire package of this passionate, soulful and heartbreaking offering that is accompanied by a bittersweet happier melody.
"So tell me you’re happy that I’m still here, we could stand on the rocks that led you to follow me”
Wow...That blows that strong deeply rooted foundation of a dynamic we most often desire and aspire to build in a relationship – however, our walk in the woods during “Fall Without a Sound” seems to pave the way for the realization of the unstable nature of the foundation for which a relationship is built and one last plea to move from instability to a place that is steady, secure and sturdy.
“You think you should go...I think you should stay”
Now the roller coaster ride begins. In this challenge of perspective titled “Good Time” – the classic, controlled and confident voice of Evan Curran makes its presence known, a yearning that can be heard and experienced by the listener on past offerings from Trippin Roots, like “Redefine” from "Waiting for the Fall". I have often talked to Evan about his vocal control in regards to the phrasing and breath control needed to perform the songs he has written. It takes a lot of physical effort to convey a lyrical message that matches what is in words on paper to the sounds and the emotions one projects when they are singing. This song is also one of the many examples of the presence of musical counterpoint, defined as the relationship between two or more musical lines which are harmonically interdependent yet independent in rhythm and melodic contour. A musical term that also describes the nature of a conversation where two independent viewpoints are making their presence known while also holding on to the hope of the interdependent necessities conversation that is going in one of two directions.
“All I want is for you to come back”
So perhaps, that conversation didn’t go as well for one as planned.
“All I Want” serves up a not only an impassioned plea for change but also a fantastic blend of Curran’s most incredible voice with tight harmonies on the chorus complimented with a compelling lead guitar solo. As a result of the genius of Jason Groves as producer - the recordings of all Trippin Roots' songs tend to lend a clean, crisp and clear recording that leaves the listener with the ability to listen to, to interpret and to even sing along with Curran - who I believe to have one of the best and consistent voices I have ever experienced ever…in my lifetime.
Sandwiched in between the song “All I Want” and “My Little Bird” is a personal plea from one to another in “Don’t Forget Me”. As I tell what my version of this story is in my own head and through my own perspective, I see this as the progression to the actual breakup. We hear soulful lyrics accompanied with a rock beat that clearly communicates the pain and anguish in trying to resolve one’s own thoughts in processing the fall out from a relationship that is “built on sand” and that can “fall down” or apart at any given point. Is this the point in the story where we give up?
“My little bird, you don’t say a word, you sing about everything you see. I think it's funny, when I turn around - you're “barking” up a different tree. I ain’t laughing and neither is he. My Little Bird – Could you sing another one for me?”
Have we moved on or are we back together? I am not really sure…but what I am really sure of is “My Little Bird” is a very simple gift in a tune in regards to lyrics, but again presents a different mechanic in the nature of very complex instrumentation and musical arrangement. For this one, I envisioned myself back on that walk through the woods, admiring all what God has given us in the simple gift of nature. An awesome 70s feel once again with a feeling of fall accompanied with a cool outside breeze. All kinds of lyrical and musical analogies bring us back to the nature theme, trees, roots and new life and assessing both the benefits and consequences with just going with what life is presenting to you and where life is taking you in the future.
The last offering brings a somewhat of a resolution to the conflict and tension we feel in all previous songs on Modern Man as Trippin Roots closes this amazing work of musical art with a 60s - 70s vibe and feel. “Hey” is reminiscent of what we experienced in “Light Up Your Gown” from “Waiting for the Fall” and starts off with the simplicity of the lead vocal presented in an acoustic setting, in my favorite of Trippin Roots preferred time meters – the fabulous “6/8” that lends to the listener a seamless, light and free flowing background for songs like “Hey” which makes me think of what we feel in The Mamas and Papas “California Dreaming” and Styx “Come Sail Away” – both of those songs providing nostalgic context for someone of my age- but also refreshing to hear the re-emergence of these sounds from decades of music most commonly infused into the musical influence of bands like Trippin Roots.
I previously mentioned that it is both bold and courageous for any band to release an album during the times in which we currently live. When I recently interviewed Winchester, KY-based band Rifletown, who released their album on February 29, 2020 – one day prior to national shutdown- the reality of what this timing presented to them was two fold – an inability to get out there on stage and on the air to promote something they had worked on for a very long time that happens between the writing of that first track to the actual release date complicated by the creative energy that has activated and inspired songwriters to stay busy and produce what can be done during this time leading to a back up of songs in pipeline to go on the next album which no one can now plan or estimate a time of actually happening under the current guidelines and restrictions. I am more than overjoyed to see both the benefits of the incredible amount of production of new songs from our Kentucky songwriters but equally encouraged that there are no signs of fear or even a need to manage it for musicians during this time.
As a result of finally getting to hear the long awaited release of Trippin Roots "Modern Man" in a year as unprecedented as 2020, I am reminded of the virtues of patience, resilience, humility, grace, persistence, diligence, drive and good old fashioned hard work in engaging and unleashing the true spirit and essence of potential that exists in a band like Trippin Roots. Even the name of the band articulates and communicates the success that has its own origins in its "roots", underneath the surface of the ground that slowly emerges and transforms into a different form of success once it breaks through the ground. We are so happy that Trippin Roots has not only built that foundation for their own music but also work hard in building that same foundations for so many others.
Renee Collins Cobb and Warren Cobb are the President/Owners of Collins Consulting Group, Listen Locally, LLC and is the Executive Director of Room 17 Productions, a nonprofit organization that promotes music education. She is the former host of Red Barn Radio and current host of radio shows titled "Overtones" a local music showcase and “Gray Matters” - a show about unconscious bias which airs weekly on WLXU, Lexington Community Radio. She is also the co-chair of the University of Kentucky School of Music Alumni. Renee is also the project manager for The Sara Holroyd Oral History Project, The History of the UK Cheerleaders Project, The Greg Austin Story and I Am Diversity at the University of Kentucky Louie B Nunn Center for Oral History. She has also served many years in the organizational effectiveness, diversity/inclusion and human resource development fields. She serves as an executive coach, keynote speaker, organizational consultant, facilitator of change and team development coach.