If you are not very familiar with the Red Dirt scene, allow me to introduce the Turnpike Troubadours, a Red Dirt band from my home state of Oklahoma. Their new, self-titled album, released Friday (September 18th), is their first release since 2012’s Goodbye Normal Street, and it was well worth the wait. This is an excellent place to start with the Turnpike Troubadours and with the Red Dirt scene in general.
The album opens with “The Bird Hunters,” which unashamedly features a fiddle for much of its five minutes. In fact, I’ll go ahead and say it now–I don’t think I’ve ever heard such a concentrated amount of fiddle on any other album. If you had a shortage of fiddle in your life, I suggest you purchase this album immediately…but I digress. Aside from that piece of awesomeness, the song itself is beautifully written, describing two friends hunting in Cherokee County; the narrator hunts, but his mind is on a woman whom he left in Tulsa after deciding not to marry her. It seems that this narrator was not cut out for city life, but he still misses, or at least thinks about, the woman he left behind. This is a fantastic opener and sets the tone of the album perfectly. “The Mercury” is my early favorite; here, frontman Evan Felker sings of the wild nights and women at Tulsa’s Mercury Lounge. “It’s 1 A.M., and wild and loud, like sittin’ in the middle of a funnel cloud,” pretty much sums this up. The instrumentation in this song is great, the perfect blend of fiddles and rock guitars. Next is “Down Here,” the current single, which sits at #4 on the
Texas Music Chart. This is a nice, somewhat lighthearted song in which the narrator is trying to offer a friend some encouragement during a hard time. It was a good choice for a single, and it will certainly get to #1–it hit #10 after only five weeks on the chart. It’s probably my least favorite song on the album, but when my least favorite is a solid song and a perfect single choice, I really can’t complain.
“Time of Day” is another lighthearted track about a man promising to give a woman all he has if “you give me just a minute of your time of day.” It’s a catchy song that would make a good future single. “Ringing in the Year” features some more of that great Red Dirt sound found in “The Mercury”; here, a man is missing a woman and wondering if she ever thinks about him. There’s an honesty in this song that can really connect with you if you listen to the lyrics–“Won’t you miss your whiskey in the wintertime, my dear, the way I’ve been missin’ you this fall, And cheap champagne don’t dull the pain of ringing in the year, wonderin’ if you think of me at all.” “A Little Song” is just that–an acoustic “little tune” written for a woman whom the narrator has apparently wronged, and “I wrote a little rhyme to make it right.” It’s very much a case of less is more–a simple little song that nevertheless leaves its mark on the listener. It’s more of that raw honesty from “Ringing in the Year.”
“Long Drive Home” is a musically excellent song saturated with fiddles and rock guitars. But if you think instrumentation is this ban’ds only strength, think again–the line “You still can’t forgive the times that I wish I could forget” is brilliant, perfectly capturing the narrator’s thoughts on the broken relationship described in this song. It’s another one of my favorites on this album. Now, I’ve heard a lot of fiddle, but not very much steel guitar–but just when I was wondering where I might find it, I am treated to an excellent re-recording of “Easton and Main.” This song was on their first album and tells us how the man “left my heart in Tulsa, on the corner of Easton & Main, on the Cain’s Ballroom floor, soaking up a bourbon stain.” Okay, so I found the steel guitar, and on “7 Oaks,” I pretty much find everything else. From the excellent keyboards to more of those great fiddles to a harmonica, this is just fun to listen to. The song itself tells of the hard times on a farm–“There ain’t no silver left in these pockets, and there ain’t no cornbread, and there ain’t no wine, that train don’t stop around here anymore, it done moved on down the line.” They are singing about being bankrupt and yet this is far more entertaining and fun to listen to than any tailgate party song I have ever come across. It would be incredible to hear live, as would “Doreen,” a song that tells the story of Doreen, who seems to be cheating on the narrator while he is on the road. At this point, I have no words sufficient for the instrumentation; everyone here should make it their goal to hear this band live. I can’t do it justice in writing, and I have a great feeling that this album can’t do the live versions justice either.
The album slows down for “Fall out of Love,” a brilliantly written song reflecting on why people fall out of love. Evan Felker sings of a broken relationship with more of that raw honesty, and if you’re not blown away by the line, “You bet your heart on a diamond, and I played the clubs in spades,” then I don’t know what will impress you–and credit to R.C. Edwards for crafting such a line, making a rare but valuable contribution on the album with this song. The album concludes with a re-recording of “Bossier City,” a fun, upbeat song about going to Bossier City to party and gamble, without the girlfriend’s knowledge. It features the fiddles with which this album so boldly began, closing the album excellently and appropriately.
In case you have not figured it out, the Turnpike Troubadours have given us a fantastic album. It was certainly worth the wait and is one of the best albums of 2015. they continue to make great country music and have made Oklahoma and Red Dirt proud. I highly recommend this album.