The idiom “grasping at straws” is hardly sufficient for describing the marketing concept behind Show Dog-Universal trio Trailer Choir. The cover art for the group’s debut album Tailgate is a bizarre, eerily upbeat “funhouse gone wrong” portrait of life in some desolate trailer park or middle-of-nowhere campground: There’s lead singer “Butter,” in shades and side-cocked baseball cap, smiling as whatever meat he’s grilling (God help us) is engulfed in flames; behind him is his 400-pound, overall-clad sideman “Big Vinny,” who’s holding his follow through as he watches a freshly-smacked golf ball soar off camera. All of this while busty blonde vixen “Crystal”— donning a red and white checked dress that looks like a cross between a truck stop waitress’ uniform and a skimpy Halloween costume—sits absentmindedly blowing bubbles from a plastic bench, next to a sketchy looking camper.
It’s a distracting image, and one that conveys a number of negative messages: Tailgate looks corny, cluttered, trashy and posed, and nothing about the album’s packaging gives us any reason to expect differently from the band or from the music contained inside—certainly not the song titles listed on the back cover, which include trailer-trash gems like “Off The Hillbilly Hook,” “Wal-Mart Flowers” and “Rockin’ The Beer Gut.”
For the most part, Tailgate is a 10-song collection that mirrors the album artwork’s style. These are stale, cheap tunes with run-down themes, spruced up and made livable through the hearty and consistent application of musical air freshener that comes in the form of thick, loud pop-country production.
Party anthems abound (with six out of ten songs dedicated to dancing, drinking or a combination of both) while “Rollin’ Through The Sunshine” and “Homemade Mexico” provide the requisite odes to the joys of frolicking in the summer sun.
But while the veneer tacked on by producers Toby Keith and Mark Wright adds some sheen to these broken-down lyrics, it’s a bit like spray-painting a rusty Pontiac. There’s just no mask that will hide such appalling lyrics as: “She was rockin’ the beet gut/It’s just some extra love around her waist.”
Still, there are more than a few times throughout that Trailer Choir demonstrates some surprisingly pleasing musical sensibilities. Butter has a smooth, easy voice that shines on “Rollin’ Through The Sunshine’s” breezy melody, and “Wal-Mart Flowers” boasts a cool groove and tight, sweet harmonies.
To that end, Tailgate succeeds in accomplishing a fair amount more than the stock Nashville release. These songs may have been salvaged from the bargain bin, but the trio has ambition, and enough imagination to make the final product as beautiful as it can be; like that woman who arranges the junk out in the front yard of her trailer, augmenting the landscape with a flock of pink flamingos and a big American flag, Trailer Choir takes pride in itself and does the best it can with what it has. Tailgate is far from tasteful, but it has a certain (albeit limited) charm.
As a rule, however, Tailgate possesses too much music that strives to fit into the framework of what Trailer Choir stands for and not nearly enough genuinely good music. There’s not a single song here that could be called great, and little material that resonates as much more than one part of a whole that borders on novelty.
It’s difficult to see Butter, Big Vinny and Crystal overcoming the conceptual problems that have plagued their career up to this point. Still, if you’re able to get past the album’s frightening cover (and that’s a substantial achievement), you may be surprised to find that the contents are far less embarrassing—and even, at times, musically rewarding.