All the Boats Are Gonna Rise (Travelin' Shoes 1001) shows the keen storytelling skill of Ernest Troost. Pointedly less impressionistic and lyrical than most blues, Troost's songs are rooted instead in character, situation, and narrative. Adeptly fingerpicked guitar backs his clear, expressive singing. Troost's style and subject matter recall Dylan, Dave Alvin, and (especially for his concentration on life's darker side) Richard Thompson--enviable company indeed. Such comparisons are not lightly made: Every song here is a keeper. Favorites include the murder ballad "Evangeline," with its haunted protagonist; the simple, John Hurt-like "This Field"; "Train to Kokomo," a series of sharply etched vignettes; and the appropriately named "Disturbing Blues," about a mother who methodically dismembers her child as he learns to make and respond to music.
--Tom Hyslop, Blues Revue Magazine
Ernest Troost's new album of songs, "All the Boats Are Gonna Rise," is a departure from his more well known work of composing soundtrack music for independent films and television projects and an exciting new direction.
"I had been writing a lot of instrumental music over the past few years in many different styles," says Troost, "everything from big band jazz to classical pieces for full orchestra. That is great fun, but I wanted to get back to some of the simpler music that first fired me up. When I was younger I had started out playing guitar and performing jug band, folk and blues tunes with a band in New England, and I really wanted to return to writing in that style again. Before I knew it, I had collected enough material for an album--and here it is."
"Stories are what fascinate me," says Troost, when asked what inspires his songwriting. "I sometimes think of myself more as a filmmaker than a songwriter--maybe it's because of all the films I've worked on, but it's also because I love to weave words and music together and create cinematic images in the mind of the listener." By mixing the traditional country blues and ragtime influences of Blind Blake, Tampa Red, and Mississippi Fred McDowell with the literate lyrics of contemporary songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Robbie Robertson, and John Hiatt, Troost has created an album that captures a colorful world long past of levees, dam builders, morally ambiguous characters, and disillusioned patriots. Moreover, he imbues them with a dark playfulness and relevance for today.
In the title track, "All the Boats Are Gonna Rise," repeated assurances that the levee will hold, and by implication that the future is bright for all, rich or poor, end in a devastating flood vividly depicted with images inspired by the Depression era novel of Zora Neal Hurston, "Their Eyes Were Watching God." Troost says, "I try to give my songs a timeless quality, so they sound like they were dug up out of the mud in a field somewhere." The songs are enhanced by his bluesy guitar licks and use of open tunings on his small OO Santa Cruz guitar. "My guitar is modeled after the old prewar Martins, and I'm convinced it's got a lot of music from the 1920s and 1930s inside it, just bustin' to get out."
"This Field,"a Woody Guthrie-flavored song, could easily be a product of slave days or of the Depression, or even a contemporary tale of the plight of migrant workers in California's Napa Valley. "Evangeline," a hauntingly beautiful murder ballad with a twist, unfolds like a Hitchcock thriller in which the murderer, tormented by guilt, fears the night and what it might bring.
In "She Might Have Been a Muse," the narrator redirects his life, with lines like "I been buildin' bodies from stolen bones and sellin' 'em like they was new, I got out of there by the skin of my teeth, it was the best thing that I could do," and "I been watchin' as the brown hills rub up against the sky, I been worryin' about the friction between a fiction and a lie."
"Train to Kokomo" is a blues shuffle, filled with a colorful assortment of thugs, murders, and shake-down artists, reluctantly waiting for that last train ride. The mother in the black-humored "Disturbin' Blues" will not tolerate any creative competition. The Piedmont blues-style accompaniment bounces playfully along as we hear, "Momma in the kitchen cuttin' the meat from the bone, devil in the pantry sharpens the blade with a stone." And things soon turn very dark as she responds to the creative expression of her child by lopping off its limbs. By the end of the song the child is reduced to a silent baby-sized torso, completely dependent on its mother.
"It's the dark characters that interest me," says Troost about his songs. "If you can get into some of these characters' heads and tell the story from their points of view, it might get a bit creepy, but it can be very dramatic, and I hope, entertaining."
The theatrical nature of Troost's songs is informed by his many successes as a film and television composer. He is an Emmy-winning and multiply Emmy-nominated composer of more than one hundred scores for films, television, and award-winning children's films, including the Oscar-nominated animated short "Dr. DeSoto." He also composed, arranged, and produced two critically praised albums of songs for Judy Collins.
Troost's television music includes the Emmy-winning score for Hallmark Hall of Fame's "Canterville Ghost," the Emmy-nominated scores for "Calm at Sunset," "Beyond the Prairie," "Martin and Lewis," and 2004's "Fallen Angel." He also wrote the score for the critically acclaimed HBO film "A Lesson Before Dying," Emmy winner for Best Picture.
His feature film scores include "Home Front," winner of Best Feature Film at the San Diego Film Festival, starring Julian Sands and Tatum O'Neal; "Beat," which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, starring Courtney Love and Kiefer Sutherland; the MGM historical epic "One Man's Hero," starring Tom Berenger; and the much-loved cult classic "Tremors," starring Kevin Bacon.
Troost was recently a featured performer on the Los Angeles acoustic music cable television show "Sounds Good," and he is currently performing his original songs around southern California.