Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Turnpike Troubadours Album Review

     If I had to perfectly define country music evolution, I wouldn’t have to look much further than The Turnpike Troubadours. While stars in Nashville use the term to justify the fact that their music is anything but country, The Turnpike Troubadours quietly provide an excellent example of it. Their latest, self-titled album falls right in line with their previous efforts. The group shows growth and maturity while sticking firmly to their roots. Making this album self-titled was an excellent decision, because with it we get a perfect musical picture of who The Turnpike Troubadours are and what they are all about.

     The lead single of the album, “Down Here”, is a fun and loud steel guitar jam that perfectly previewed this album for us (Full "Down Here" Single Review). The Troubadours make their mark with songs in this vein. They start with some type of storytelling aspect. All of the songs are a story or introspective in some way. There are no laundry list songs or throwaway lyrics anywhere to be found. Even the fun, light-hearted songs pack a punch. They take those lyrics and perform them with the intensity and gusto of a punk rock band. Many of these songs would make excellent rock songs, as the band really excels at bringing the raw energy of a live show to the album format. However, the key third ingredient is their accompaniment. They have some loud, loud, loud guitars blaring throughout the album for sure, but never does that volume overpower the traditional instruments. This is a fiddle and steel based record. The result is something that the traditional country fans can go crazy for and that the modern crowd can get into as well. It has rock energy with country lyrics and instruments. This is a better version of what Garth tried to do in the 90’s.

     There simply is not a bad song on the album. Not even close. “The Mercury” is the one that clicks the least with me, but I still love it for continuing the legend of Lorrie (Check out “Good Lord Lorrie” on their album Goodbye Normal Street if you are confused). “7 Oaks” is a fun song that spits in the eye of establishment through the eyes of an older landowner. “Easton And Main” is an updated version of a song from their first album. This song is as solid country gold as you can get in 2015, with steel guitar pouring over a heartbroken toe-tapper. “Long Drive Home” is a big fiddle song with the great line “they all want to be Hank Williams, but they don’t want to have to die”. “Time Of Day” is the simplest song on the album, but still features better lyrics than 95% of mainstream country. Even when they take it light, they still sound clever. The ballad “Fall Out Of Love” is a poignant ode to a love as it falters, and the questions that arise from the loss. It contains possibly the best line on the album and one of the best of the year: "You bet your heart on a diamond, and I played the clubs in spades".  That's top shelf stuff.  “Fall Out Of Love” is juxtaposed with “Bossier City” at the end of the album. “Bossier City” is another update of a song from their first album. It is a loud and raucous anthem about a boy on a journey to the gambling town of Bossier City, complete with an accompanying accordion to give it a Cajun feel. “Doreen” is another wild song that is a great cover of the Old 97’s song. “Ringing In The New Year” is another mid-tempo, high energy sad song that picks up right where “Whole Damn Town” from their Diamonds & Gasoline album left off.

     While the whole album is fantastic, two songs stood out to me as a cut above the rest. One of these songs is “A Little Song”. Country music has a lot of songs about songs, but this one is different. “A Little Song” is lead-singer Evan Felker’s musing on how love songs work, and the power that they can contain. It is a stripped down, simple, acoustic tune that allows Felker to totally command every lyric. It is a treat to listen to. The other big song is the opener, “The Bird Hunters”. Anyone who knows my tastes knows that I’m a sucker for great fiddle songs and great story songs. Well, I’ll be darned if this isn’t a fiddle-driven story song. “The Bird Hunters” tells the tale of two old buddies on a hunt, letting go of demons and reconnecting after the narrator loses his love. All of this takes place as Kyle Nix absolutely slays the fiddle. While the whole package is great, if for some reason you can only hear one song from the album, make “The Bird Hunters” the one.

     When it comes to country music in 2015, The Turnpike Troubadours ore on a short list of the very best in the business. Along with Sturgill Simpson, they are right at the top of artists with huge potential. The only thing that rivals their albums is their live show. If these guys are in town near you, check em out. They bring every bit of energy you hear on the album and then some. Evan Felker, R.C. Edwards, Kyle Nix, Ryan Engleman, and Gabe Pearson are The Turnpike Troubadours. The evolution of country music. Bands like this are the very reason this site exists, so check them out!

Standout Tracks: "The Bird Hunters", "A Little Song", "Easton And Main", "Fall Out Of Love", "Bossier City", "Down Here", "7 Oaks"

"The Bird Hunters"

"A Little Song"

"Easton And Main"

"Bossier City"

"Down Here"

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