- The Washington Times - Monday, January 5, 2004

The Lost Trailers

Welcome to the Woods

Universal Records

What was Willie Nelson thinking, penning an antiwar song (“Whatever Happened to Peace on Earth?”) that was not only too late to stop the war but missed the Christmas season, too?

The French-braided One showed sharper sense in giving a little-known Atlanta band, the Lost Trailers, a shot at the bigs with an opening slot on one of his recent tours.

Unwittingly, Mr. Nelson also helped christen the band’s major-label debut when, in a radio interview with frontman Stokes Nielson, then a Nashville disc jockey, he said, “If you build a house of quality in the woods, the world will beat a path to your doorstep.”

Hence, “Welcome to the Woods.” While the CD isn’t due in stores until March, it’s compelling enough that we wanted you to know about it now. They’re in town in a few weeks, too, warming up for the Clarks at the 9:30 Club on Jan. 30.

“Woods” is a barn-full of roots rock as sown in the heart of Dixie and crossbred with English bands such as the Faces. It’s nothing new under the Georgia sun, but there are enough country hooks and salty guitar licks here to last through the new year.

On songs such as “Down in the Valley,” “Averly Jane” and the ode to hometown “Atlanta,” chief Trailers songwriter Mr. Nielson has a fun time showing off his record collection. The overarching vibe is of Southern rock bands such as the Allman Brothers and the Kentucky Headhunters, but there are long-buried Bruce Springsteen hooks channeled here too (we’re thinking of “River”-era rockers), with sudsy harmonies that recall the Boss whooping it up with best pal Steven Van Zandt.

Lyrically, though, the Springsteen influence has yet to settle in. When Mr. Springsteen moved to Los Angeles, he wrote an album (“The Ghost of Tom Joad”) about Mexican immigrants on the danger-fraught margins of the American Southwest. Mr. Nielson’s city-confidential tale based in L.A., “Longfall,” is a hackneyed rant about a girlfriend’s plastic surgery and lust for fame.

“Her face used to feel so soft / till her agent’s doctor pull it off,” he sings. Mr. Nielson may indeed have had such a shallow gal pal, but he relates a very old story. Tell us something we didn’t know, please.

Keyboardist and backing vocalist Ryder Lee squeezes into the spotlight with a song of his own, “Walking Blind,” a contemplation of encroaching middle age, and one of “Woods’” best. A soulful ballad sung over a tasteful electronic rhythm, it’s a welcome touch of modernity for a band a little too enamored with classic rock.

Mr. Lee’s voice, brawny and expressive, is obviously better than the limited range of Mr. Nielson’s screech. Perhaps the two should swap positions.

“Welcome to the Woods” may not turn heads for its innovation, but it’s a sure bet for fiery live performance. The album sounds as though it was cut primarily, if not entirely, live in the studio.

The Lost Trailers are one of those bands that record music solely as an excuse to support their touring habits. We miss bands like that.

The Lost Trailers may be about to find their way to loftier levels in roots rock. The Atlanta band has released a CD and opened for Willie Nelson on a recent tour. The group will play Washingtons 9:30 Club on Jan. 30.

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