Romanovsky & Phillips take a quantum leap from their debut album on this very polished follow-up under the deft guidance of producer and women's music veteran Teresa Trull. Despite the more mature production, at no point does their message get lost in the medium. Backed by some of the best musicians in the San Francisco Bay Area (Windham Hill artists Darol Anger, Barbara Higbie, Mike Marshall, just to name a few) R&P glide through the 12 cuts with continuity and finesse.
Anyone who is already familiar with R&P knows that this singing-songwriting team works from a potluck of traditions and influences. Trouble in Paradise is a musical grab bag, with styles that range from country to calypso, doo-wop ditties to baroque quartet. Though their lyrics may at first seem somewhat single-issue, they contain universal wisdoms that ring too true to be confined to any one audience. Therein lies the genius of R&P.
The album kicks off with the hilarious, self-effacing "What Kind Of Self-Respecting Faggot Am I", in which Romanovsky pokes fun at gay male stereotypes by lamenting his lack of Judy Garland records, show tunes, and fashion sense. The hysterically funny "Guilt Trip" is the unbridled romp of a scorned lover, complete with wailing gypsy violins, a Hava Nagila-inspired chorus and an over-the-top vocal performance by Phillips. By contrast, the poignant "Lost Emotions" is left to stand on its own, and with nothing more than a simple piano accompaniment and R&P's sweet harmonies, speaks eloquently of the limitations that both gay and straight men face in showing affection. Similarly, the heartfelt "He Wasn't Talking To Me", expresses the disappointment of a failed relationship that anyone can relate to with its deliberately sparse arrangement. Other highlights include the upbeat sing-a-long "Don't Use Your Penis (For A Brain), a tongue-in-cheek attack on machismo, the Tin Pan Alley-style "Wimp" which reluctantly concedes a need for assertiveness-training, and the politically charged "Homophobia" which manages to cite specific instances of discrimination without being pedantic. Also noteworthy is "Must've Been Drunk" (the only non-original track), an up-tempo bluegrass number which satirizes denial and could well have been the theme song from Brokeback Mountain. R&P make their points with wit and irony rather than with a sledge hammer, and casually reflect on their tendancy to do so in the folksy "Carnival People" which concludes the album with the caveat, "We're not up here to tell you what's right or wrong, we haven't got answers, we just have our song."
Winner of the prestigious San Francisco Cable Car Award for best album, Trouble in Paradise, with its incisive, funny lyrics and crafty arrangements, is an album worth listening to again and again.