As I rapidly approach the big 5-0, I jokingly tell people I’m not sure what I want to be when I grow up. Pennsylvania native Peter Rogan apparently did not have that problem. After playing in rock, folk and jazz bands for twenty plus years he finally took a “day job” as an electrician in 2000 at a Reading, Pennsylvania steel mill. Then a few years ago, he got the urge to write songs, something he had never focused on before. Proving the “old dog, new tricks” adage wrong he won the Great American Song Contest once and placed as a finalist twice. Not too shabby for a steel mill electrician.
While attending a songwriter’s camp in 2014 Rogan made the acquaintance of famed Nashville songwriter/ producer/musician Phil Madeira who has worked with and played on songs from The Civil Wars, Keb Mo and Bruce Hornsby, not to mention many others. I tell you this so you will understand that Madeira has worked with top acts across genres and he saw something in Rogan and invited him to Nashville in 2016 to help him realize his dream of creating an album. Taking the tracks home, Rogan decided, with the encouragement of Madeira, to self-produce his debut album, Still Tryin to Believe (Melt Shop Records) which had to be a daunting task. Nevertheless he managed to pull it off and deliver an immediately listenable effort that finds itself instantly at home in the wide open arms of the American genre.
The opening (and title) track “Still Tryin’ To Believe” is nice and breezy with more than a touch of jammy influences. It reminds me of northeast jambands like God Street Wine and it kinda bounces along with a solid groove. Madeira on organ and Nashville ace Will Kimbrough on guitar take this song to a higher level. “Kickin’ the Can” starts out with jazzy organ and drum feel, not surprising given Rogan’s jazz past, but then it kicks in a bit, leaving the jazziness behind. The song, an ode to putting things off, builds and builds courtesy of some big backing vocals with Kimbrough and Medeira allowing their guitar skills to shine. It is an upbeat and funky song and I can see this being a showstopper when played live.
“Rolling Mill Blues” barrels out of the gate with boogie-woogie piano and a dirty dobro lick. This is one of the more rocked up, beer drinking, honky-tonk songs on the album. I love the slow build and the way the guitars crash into each other as “Mercy” builds and builds before backing off and starting the climb again. This song is an epic rocker and showcases Rogan’s talents as a musician and a songwriter. “The Start of Something Easy” has a light, acoustic 80’s pop feel to it yet it fits right in. “Beautiful Honey” which I imagine is a love song to his wife, is perfectly beautiful. One of my favorite songs is the surprising “Songs for Keith” which was not recorded in Nashville but in Pennsylvania with an entirely different group of musicians. Upon listening you will understand why as it shirks its pop, blues, folk, Americana trappings and goes full blown jazz. I don’t mean Kenny G smooth jazz, but the kind of jazz you would be lucky to find in a small dimly lit club in New York City, with smoke catching the houselights as the quartet puts on a masterclass.
Still Tryin’ To Believe is a fun, listenable record. It moves effortlessly through several genres but never seems like it is trying too hard to be something it isn’t. I guess that is what experience and perspective bring to the table when you are recording your first album at the young age of 57. Rogan, in the midst of a team of Nashville heavy weights, more than holds his own throughout the record. His voice warmly compliments his songs and you will find yourself, like I did, going back and listening to this album again and again.