2015 Reissue. With the oddly evocative choice of his third solo album’s title, appropriated from Richard Brautigan’s 1967 surrealist-pastoral novel Trout Fishing in America, Mike Cooper might very well have been describing his own mercurial musical practice. “Trout Steel” suggests a reflective, highly mutable, quicksilver riverine element, an apt metaphor for the lap steel runs summoned from his trademark National resophonic guitars and his restless, constantly evolving development as a singer, composer, interpreter, and improviser. Listening to Cooper’s recordings retrospectively in sequence reveals a rangy narrative of perennial reinvention from document to document through a playful approach to the deconstruction of “folk” musics and all that gross genre signifier implies and denies. Because of his staunch refusal to settle on any single sonic palette, his career has maintained a slippery, elusive, and multihued character—troutlike, eddying—full of permutations, sudden departures and transformations, and unexpected articulations and detours. By the time the Rolling Stones invited him to join the band in the early ’60s, and he politely declined (true story; Brian Jones took the gig), he had already progressed far beyond the circumscribed bounds of their early, hip-histrionic Albionic blues. By the time he was rumored to have retired from music in the mid ’70s, disappearing from his home in Southern England into Southern Spain to become a fisherman (an amusing fiction; he suffers from seasickness), he had already moved beyond his heady homebrew of progressive, free jazz-framed songcraft into increasingly less conventionally structured frontiers of open improvisation and later, electronic composition. The molting began in 1970 with Trout Steel, on which Cooper took a decisive step away from the folk and blues scenes in which he was well-known—he had toured with Michael Chapman and traveled in the same circles as Bert Jansch, Wizz Jones, and Davey Graham, among others—toward the New Thing jazz of Pharaoh Sanders, Sonny Sharrock, and Derek Bailey, without sacrificing any of his lyrical songwriting or forsaking his established roots in the soil of the American Southern vernacular. Producer Peter Eden (Donovan, Bill Fay, Clive Palmer) assembled a crack team of English and South African jazz and folk musicians (including Mike Osborne, Harry Miller, Geoff Hawkins, Stefan Grossman, and Heron) to record these remarkable sessions, and the results are absolutely sui generis, a compelling mix of tradition, group improvisations, and unfettered studio explorations that presaged Cooper’s adventurous work for decades to come.
First-ever artist-sanctioned and vinyl reissue, two years in the making | Includes 16 pp. chapbook with an exhaustive essay, lyrics, and never published color photos | aVinyl edition includes digital download coupon