Brianna and I are both huge fans of this band, and again, I do apologize that this comes late, but the only fair way to review this is a collaboration, and so we are here now to discuss our thoughts. Both of us enjoyed the new album, but this is definitely the most we’ve differed on a collab piece, which certainly made it a fun discussion, hopefully also a fun read.
Megan: So first off, how would you say this is stacking up against other Turnpike albums? Obviously we’ve both been big fans for a long time, and I’ll just say, this had to grow on me.
Brianna: This one had to grow on me too. But at this point, it’s my second favorite after Diamonds and Gasoline. The band really bring the energy this time around, and the musicianship is stellar. I feel like this is their best album musically, as far as the various styles that are featured.
Megan: See, this is why the collaborations are good. Because for me, musically this is actually my least favorite. I’m not as much a fan of the more rock-influenced direction they went in for some of it. I feel like what got better on this album in particular was the songwriting.
Brianna: I love their country sound so much. Particularly the fiddle and also all the steel guitar on this album. It’s great! But songs like “Something to Hold On To” really show off their abilities with a more rock sound. It’s actually my top favorite song, I think. Also, I have to mention the musicianship on “A Tornado Warning.” That part where the lyrics speak about country music and the band breaks into this great sort of country sound for those few seconds is one of my favorite moments on the whole album instrumentally. As for the songwriting, I agree that it got a lot better. I like the albums before this one a lot, but not since Diamonds and Gasoline have I felt so drawn to the stories and characters.
Megan: Yeah, as an Oklahoman, I have to talk about “A Tornado Warning” for a minute. So essentially, they’re trying to use the music to explain how the wind sounds leading up to and during a tornado. I appreciate these details from them. I know it’s important to Evan Felker just based on stuff I’ve read that he writes about and portrays Oklahoma in the proper light, and I think this song is a great example of that.
Megan: As far as the stories and characters, I think a song like “The Housefire” is an example of the improved songwriting because it’s kind of an average song on the surface, but it gets elevated with the attention to detail and the inclusion of the mysterious Lorrie. If you’re new to Turnpike, you’re not impressed, but if you know Lorrie already, it’s even more significant.
Brianna: It sure is. If you’re new to the band, I’d even recommend going back and checking out the songs where she appears. It’s extremely unique and clever how Evan crafts such compelling stories. I love “The Housefire” and think it’s one of their best story songs. It just feels fuller knowing Lorrie’s backstory.
Megan: I’m glad you mentioned going back, because I think that’s my main criticism with this album. Even though the writing is better, it’s almost like an inside thing by now, like you couldn’t start someone new to this band with this album because of the references and interwoven stories.
Brianna: That’s a good point. I haven’t thought about that. On one hand, you’re right. All these little details, like the Browning shotgun that belongs to the narrator of “The Housefire” keep coming up, so yes, you do miss out on some things if you’ve never listened to them before. I”m more fan and think it’s awesome that these guys have created their own world and characters, but if you look at it this way, it can be a bit alienating. Still, if you are unfamiliar, you wouldn’t really know you’re missing out, and you could still appreciate the song. You’d just not get the bigger picture until you listened to their previous work.
Megan: That’s also a good perspective. So, standout moments for you? I know you’ve already mentioned “Something to Hold On To.”
Brianna: OH yeah, the guitar and chorus of that song are just so catchy! I love it. Besides that one and “The Housefire,” I love the fast pace of “Winding Stair Mountain Blues,” with its sort of bluegrass sound. Plus, the lyrics are very interesting. I also really love “Pay NO Rent” because it’s such a heartfelt description of emotion. “Sunday Morning Paper” is very catchy and also pretty timely, as it’s about the death of rock ‘n’ roll. Really, I could go on about almost all of these songs. What about you?
Megan: I’d agree about “The Winding Stair Mountain Blues” and Pay NO Rent” for sure. “Winding Stair” is just stellar instrumentally, and it shows off their fiddle which I always have a weakness for. On the other side of that, you’ve got “Pay no Rent,” which is pretty much Exhibit A for the fact that Evan Felker is a redneck Shakespeare. Incredibly poetic, well-written song. Also really digging “Pipe Bomb Dream” and “Old Time Feeling (Like Before).”
Brianna: OH, how could I forget about those two? The first thing I noticed about “Pipe Bomb Dream” was all the great steel guitar, but I think painting the portrait of a war vet getting into trouble with the law on account of some rather illicit activities was kind of fun. As for “Old Time Feeling,” I thought it was pretty potent emotionally, as he’s saying he felt exactly the same way he used to. Times have changed, but his feelings haven’t. I like the lyrics of that song a lot.
Megan: It’s easy to forget them, I think, because there are so many great songs. So I think we agree on the low point of the record, that being “Oklahoma Stars.”
Brianna: For sure. It’s not a bad song by any means, but the lyrics don’t really do anything for me. There isn’t one Turnpike Troubadours song I think is awful, but this one just kind of…bores me, I suppose.
Megan: Jamie Lin Wilson did that song at Medicine Stone. She wrote all of it and sent it to Evan, who apparently added the last verse. I actually thought her version was beautiful, and I was really looking forward to hearing theirs. She had written the song after Medicine Stone last year about the experience there; that’s why it mentions the “banks in late September” for example. I actually think their version is completely awful in comparison, because it’s a complete misinterpretation of hers. Hers was much more melodic and heartfelt, and I think this one stripped a lot of that away.
Brianna: Oh wow, I definitely need to see if I can listen to her version. I really like her singing, so I’m betting I’ll like that a lot.
Megan: Yeah, hearing it on this album was majorly disappointing for me. She’s singing with him on it, but it still just doesn’t sound right. Anyway, I’m interested to see what your overall rating of this will be because based on this conversation and some things we’ve said in private, I think this may be the first time your rating beats mine.
Brianna: I think I’ll have to go with a 9.5 on this one. The instrumentation really is stellar, and the sound is much fuller than on their previous albums. The writing is very well done, and I love most of these songs. Really, the only thing bringing this album down for me is my total lack of feeling toward “Oklahoma Stars.” While I definitely acknowledge your point about the number of things on this album that are kind of special only if you’re already familiar with their work, it’s just something that draws me into their music and this album even more.
Megan: Everyone, take note, this is the highest rating for an album Brianna has yet given here. I myself don’t love it as much as you, I’d go with an 8 for this album. The songs I enjoy I absolutely love, but it’s not the entire album for me. Definitely a solid addition to their discography, but I guess I’ll be in the minority because I don’t think it’s their best album overall. And we’ve created a weird collective rating for this which has never happened before.
Collective Rating: weirdly, 8.75/10