Rickolus – Troubadour (Review)


Released by Circle Into Square

Over the course of 13 years, the last film projectionist in Florida spent his spare time recording an album a day in a green shed in his Jacksonville backyard, piling up roughly 4,748 albums according to legend. Somewhere along the way he got married, had a daughter, made music with indie rapper Astronautalis, and went on the occasional tour. This man is Rickolus.

The singer-songwriter, who emerged into cult consciousness with the obscure-yet-praised Youngster and Coyote & Mule records, had the audacity to drop a double album in the age of dwindling attention spans. This album is Troubadour, split into the acoustic Roads and electric Towns.

Drawing inspiration from Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth, Troubadour is Rickolus‘ abstract exploration of love as the highest spiritual experience and serves as a meandering epic poem to his wife. His witty, emotive palette lends itself to a beautiful sonic sadness even when the subject matter itself doesn’t occupy the same space, as evidenced by songs such as “White Whale” and “9th Street to San Pablo”.

“Roy Great Britain IV”, the opening track on Roads, finds Rickolus channeling his inner Jeff Mangum with a strained, verse-closing wail. Intentional or not, the Neutral Milk Hotel influence shows up in Rickolus’ delivery at least two other times on the acoustic half of Troubadour. “Chasing Thunder” is one of his finest tracks to date, with a surging, layered chorus that implants itself deeply in your brainstem upon first listen. “I will always want what I can’t have,” he laments.

For as straightforward as Rickolus’ acoustic tracks are in a structural sense, they also sound like nothing else in the singer-songwriter genre. Part of this is the man’s melodic voice, which commands with simplicity and conjures a diverse spectrum of emotions. It’s also his old school recording techniques, which favor fuzzy 4-track simplicity over studio gloss.

The end product, Troubadour, is a whittled-down, wife-approved labor of love. She culled the final tracklist from Rickolus’ mountain of demos and it was her idea to split the record down the middle and separate its halves stylistically. At 24 songs deep, it’s remarkable that the double LP contains no filler. The acoustic half is a bit stronger than its electric counterpart, but many of the album’s best songs, such as “Surrender” and “Whatever Etc.”, fall under the electric umbrella.

Rickolus’ Troubadour is an ambitious undertaking in a modern context or any other, but it’s a rewarding and engrossing one however you measure it.

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