Rich Krueger – The Troth Sessions: Album Review

Early demos collection from master satirist, Rich Krueger

Release Date:  15th August 2020

Label: Don Giovanni Records

Formats: 4CD, Download

At The Barrier has been slow off the mark with this one!  Released in August 2020, Rich Krueger’s latest album, The Troth Sessions, managed to slip under our radar and only recently came to our attention.  But never mind. It’s here now, and I for one, am glad that we didn’t miss it.  An album that carries a theme of marriage and break-ups, The Troth Sessions is a collection of well-worded songs.  The presentation is simple: just one man and his guitar, and it all amounts to the type of album that we all need to fall back on occasionally.

Rich Krueger has led an interesting life.  He’s a qualified neonatologist and has devoted much of his time to that profession, but he’s also led a sporadic, highly acclaimed and fascinating parallel life as a singer, songwriter and guitarist of no mean ability.  A long-time admirer of Jacques Brel, as well as of more accessible talents including Flatt & Scuggs, Pete Seeger, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Glenn Campbell, Rich launched his own musical career when he formed The Dysfunctionelles (self-proclaimed as THE Butt-Ugliest Band in Chicago) whilst still a medical student.  In 2002, he was invited by songwriters and fellow former students Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis to perform their song The Ballad Of Mary O’Connor at Brave New World, American Theatre’s Response to 9/11 at New York Town Hall. It was an appearance that preceded a 6-year absence from the music scene. An absence that only ended when he started contributing to open mic sessions whilst living in New Mexico. 

2018 was a particularly pivotal year for Rich as he won the prestigious Kerryville New Folk Competition (previous winners include Steve Earl, Nancy Griffith and Lyle Lovett (!)) and recorded and released two highly acclaimed albums, Life Ain’t That Long and NowTHEN, both of which included inputs from ex-Beefheart guitarist Gary Lucas, alt-country maestro Robbie Fulks, Holy Modal Rounder Peter Stampfel and others.

Rich had intended to enter the studio during 2020 to record a third album of original material, but COVID restrictions put paid to that idea.  Instead, he has dug out the set of demos that he put together in advance of his 2002 Town Hall appearance, and it’s these that comprise the material for The Troth sessions.  Stripped down to absolute basics, the songs (with just one notable exception – the marvelous violin that adds to the poignancy of the excellent Ballad Of Mary O’Connor) feature just Rich and his guitar, and that’s not a problem.  Rich is a fine guitarist with the Richard Thompson knack of being seemingly able to play two parts at the same time, and his lyrics really don’t need any further accompaniment. 

And that brings us to the raison d’être for this album: the lyrics.  Just about every one of these songs is a cascade of powerful, sharp, often bitter and cleverly phrased words that contain more than a hint of the type of satire that would credit Loudon Wainwright III or even the great Tom Lehrer himself.

Opening track and current single, True True Love, was written for a friend’s wedding.  It certainly piles on the treacle with killer lines like “I’ve never seen this man so happy or this woman brought so near to tears,” and “He will be the sword, she the shield” but Rich also shows his harsh, satirical, edge as he warns the happy couple of the hazards that lie ahead.  Charlie guitar is softer, a ¾ tune with some interesting twangy embellishments played above the rhythm in a tribute to Chicago guitarist Charlie Koster who died in May 1999.

Love is Gonna Break The Fall is quirky and Loudon-like and Amazing is an excellent song that expresses similar hopes and reservations to those expressed in True True Love.  The Ballad Of Mary O’Connor, the Hollman/Kotis song that Rich performed at the 9/11 memorial, is truly excellent.  It tells the incredible story of a 9/11 survivor, the guilt she felt and the lasting psychological impacts she suffered during the years after her escape.  We’re left on a literal cliff edge as the song ends with Mary standing on the 86th floor observation deck of the Empire State Building; is she intending to jump?

In The One You Love, Rich analyses the emotions that take over when a marriage goes stale.  It’s another powerful song that deals with the deterioration of a relationship and the changes that those within the relationship go through and contains lyrics like “People pack the car to come and see the talking corpse that once was me.”  The shattered relationship theme is continued in The Uncertainty, a song that suggests that love can be explained by the application of quantum mechanics before Rich makes a confident and determined expression of his faith in the grace of God in the penultimate track There Is A Wideness In God’s Mercy, a song that sits somewhat uneasily amongst the overwhelming cynicism of the rest of the album.

Closing track Heaven is a delight. A ragtime-ish piece of satire that returns to the theme of fading relationships and which, probably more than any other song on the album, sounds like it was written either by, for, or because of Loudon Wainwright.  It’s a song that closes the album in very much the way that it opened.

Rich Krueger’s lyrical gift has attracted plaudits from such esteemed critics as Griel Marcus and Robert Christgau and a listen to The Troth Sessions makes it easy to see why.  His is certainly a name to look out for and his occasional YouTube posts At Home with Rich Krueger are worth keeping an eye on.  Look out too for an album of new material and a possible UK tour, once our COVID ordeal is over.

Watch Rich Krueger perform True True Love, a song from The Troth sessions here:

Rich Krueger Online: Website/ Facebook/ Twitter/ Instagram/ YouTube

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