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Collaborative Review: Turnpike Troubadours–A Long Way From Your Heart

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.

Conversation

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

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Go See the Turnpike Troubadours Live If It’s the Last Thing You Do

It’s been a weird month for me, and I’m sorry I’m just getting to this now, but trust me, I had to take some time for myself, and it was well worth it. I do expect there to be quite an influx of writing during the next few days because I’ve been listening to a lot of music but haven’t had the time to really sit down and write my thoughts on anything.

But absolutely the first thing I have to address is the live show I saw last Friday in Oklahoma City at a place called the Criterion for the Turnpike Troubadours’ album release party. I’ve now seen Turnpike three times live, and I’m so glad I finally get to devote an entire post to this. I will freely say that in September at Medicine Stone, they didn’t live up to themselves as much, and their show didn’t blow me away on the level that it has each other time, but without a doubt, the Turnpike Troubadours is the best live music experience I’ve had the opportunity to see.

It’s hard to even begin to put into words the kind of brilliance you see at a Turnpike show, but you know all that ridiculous fiddle and guitar and just generally awesome instrumentation? It’s barely contained on their albums, and then you hear it just basically come unleashed in a live setting. There’s nothing like the opening to “Before the Devil Knows We’re Dead” as the band just breaks out into the song, and all hell breaks loose. It’s surreal to listen to a song like “Seven and Seven,” meant to be such a deep and thought-provoking number, be screamed out among thousands of people because somehow this band managed to write it in an upbeat, concert-friendly way. This helped me to enjoy some of the new album more–you’ll see my thoughts on that shortly, by the way–because songs like “The Housefire” work better in a live setting, and suddenly a serious song becomes lively and fun. And then you get moments like “Pay no Rent,” where the songwriting of Evan Felker is on full display, and even if you came here looking for a party, you can’t help but be hit by the genius in these lyrics.

Even having seen Turnpike twice already, “Long Hot Summer Day” is a moment I was looking forward to, just hearing the fiddle over and over for the chorus. At Medicine Stone, they had tended to do this as an encore, but here, they did it as the finale, to ridiculous applause. The encore featured Jamie Lin Wilson, who had been the opener and is another great live performer, and she was there for “Call a Spade a Spade,” a song she appears on in its studio version. The night ended with “The Bird Hunters,” which is amazing in and of itself, because that song is a five-minute, waltzing heartbreak song, and yet, the Troubadours manage to make it something lively enough for the end of a concert. It’s truly special to hear everyone singing along to this, and it makes me go back to Jamie Lin saying that Evan Felker somehow manages to write “deep, thoughtful songs that also make you want to party.” This is extremely rare, and it means both that this band’s writing might be a little underappreciated and also that they’re accessible enough for everyone.

They’re certainly being given greater attention now, but the Turnpike Troubadours are still massively underrated. Trigger addressed this a little on SCM, but it’s a shame that artists like Turnpike and others are struggling to find live audiences outside Texas and Oklahoma because they should be on the level of Isbell and Simpson. NO question. So go out and support the best band making country music today if you have any interest in live music at all.

Single Review: Turnpike Troubadours’ “The Housefire”

Rating: 8/10

Well, Lorrie’s back.

That’s almost the first thing you notice about this new Turnpike song, the reemergence of Lorrie, who first appeared in “Good Lord Lorrie” and later in “The Mercury” and can arguably be linked to several other Troubadours songs. Here, she’s a beacon of assurance, grabbing the baby and calling the fire department as the narrator’s house burns to the ground. You can tell he admires her calmness; he’s watching speechlessly as his house burns, but he reflects that Lorrie “never missed a note” as she wrapped up their baby in a coat “she found out in my ride.” Seeming to draw his strength from Lorrie, he observes that “I can live on so much less” as he stands barefoot outside with only “a photograph and my old auto 5.” Same shotgun from “The Bird Hunters?” Perhaps, and that would possibly give us another piece of the Lorrie puzzle, if indeed she’s the one the narrator of that epic is thinking of as he lifts the gun to his shoulder in the opening moments of their last album. We also have the possible links of the “logging roads” mentioned here and in that song, although in rural Oklahoma, such roads are prevalent, so I wouldn’t be as quick to assert that particular connection.

But all this is part of the mystery that makes an Evan Felker-penned tune a joy to listen to, as he weaves compelling stories together that at once make you feel like you know these characters and also give you very little information about them. But he told us the new album would have lots of narrative songs, so we may yet learn more about these characters and how it all connects. Or maybe Felker himself is adding pieces to the story as he writes. Anyway, this particular narrative is a great picture of all the little details that happened in those few moments of the house burning down. Add to that their signature stellar instrumentation, and what we have is yet another great song from this band. It’s a comfort to hear when my ears have recently been subjected to the horrors of the new songs from Luke Bryan, Dylan Scott, and Taylor Swift. IN a world with the Turnpike Troubadours, we’ll always have some good music to balance it out. Can October 20th please get here already?

Written by: Evan Felker

Reflecting On: Reckless Kelly – Under the Table & Above the Sun

Reckless Kelly is the band that initially got me into the red dirt and independent country scene. I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to discuss them in a Random Reflections article, but I’m fixing that as of today. This album is not my favorite by the band, but it does feature “Nobody’s Girl”, which is the song that first captured my attention.

Release Date: 2003

Style: Red Dirt, rock country

People Who Might Like This Album: People who don’t mind a little rock mixed with country, those who appreciate a fiddle solo

Standout Tracks: “Nobody’s Girl”, “Desolation Angels”, “Vancouver”, “You Don’t Want Me Around”

This album starts out great. When you hear the opening guitar and drums of “Let’s Just Fall”, you’re instantly treated to what a classic, rocking Reckless Kelly song sounds like. The lyrics are clever too, they go “I know we could both fall flat, let’s just fall. Leave it at that”. It’s not a standout track, but I do really like it. “Nobody’s Girl” is one of my favorite songs by the band. As I said above, it’s the one that hooked me, but the fact that it’s held up for me over years of listening is a testament to its strength. It’s all about how a woman keeps men at a distance due to how her father left her mother without a word. Now she’s bitter and refuses to let anyone get close. When I was showing Megan this song, I brought up my favorite lines. “Everybody wants you but you don’t wanna care, so you keep em at a distance with the frown you wear”. That part is just super-catchy, and it never gets old for me. Another classic that just so happens to be on this album is “Desolation Angels”. It’s all about a traveling man who is looking for more out of life, but who is also trying to run from anything permanent, or harsh feelings. . “Wealth and matter has never made much sense to me, it’s bought a lot of souls but never has it set one free” is yet another example of the great writing these guys put out. Also, I love the fiddle on this song!

“Vancouver” is also great. There are a lot of cities mentioned within the lyrics, but it just makes the song more relatable to me. I like that it’s slower, and a love song. It really shows off how vulnerable the band can get. The man in the lyrics wonders where his love is as he’s getting drunk, and she’s off somewhere breaking hearts. “You Don’t Want me Around” is another faster song. It involves a man who wants to be with a girl, but she doesn’t share the same feelings. This one isn’t as deep as a song like “Desolation Angels”, but I just really like the music behind this one, and it’s catchy.

Like I said before, this is not my favorite album by Reckless Kelly. This one has a couple of their best songs ever, though. Also, as it features the track that really got me into the music that is my most favorite today, I figured it was the perfect thing to cover. If you have never looked into Reckless Kelly, I think everyone should give them a chance.

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Album Review: Kody West Shows Promise on Debut Album Green

Rating: 8/10

Sometimes, all of us get sick of this whole drama-infused reviewing music thing. There’s pressure from other critics, publicists, readers…it’s hard to find words for each new album, to express your opinion when you know it’s heavily in the minority, to stand out in the crowd of other people trying to stand out doing the same thing, and it’s understandable why lots of blogs have shut down or gone on hiatus recently. And then, out of the blue, you find some new, cool music from a guy like Texas country artist Kody West, and you remember the reason you do this in the first place–to bring people’s attention to artists like this, and maybe help to give them the same cool discovery you just experienced. It’s a joy like no other, and for me, there’s a certain, more specific joy when it comes to the Texas and Red Dirt music running through this region I call home, and when I get to present new and promising artists rising up in this scene. And “promising” is perhaps the best word to describe the debut album by Kody West. Green.

One of the definite high points on this record is the instrumentation. Sonically, it’s much like the early records of the Eli Young Band, flawlessly merging country and rock, traditional and contemporary, into something real and raw, yet still quite new and refreshing, that indefinable thing that seems to be the hallmark of Texas and Red Dirt music. This record sets itself above many other similar-sounding ones, however, in that there is a variety. “The Prayer” is straight-up country, and there’s lots of steel guitar in “IN the Morning” as well. Then there are more rock-leaning songs like the ever-building “Million Miles” and the title track, which except for its heartbroken lyrics about a couple whose love has burned out over the years, is really anything but country. The variety in instrumentation throughout the album speaks to West’s desire to correctly interpret the songs and the lyrics, and for the most part, that works very well. It also serves to provide something for everyone, from those who like the more country side of Texas music, to those who prefer it to sound like hard rock with honest lyrics.

Speaking of lyrics, there are some strong standouts here too. I mentioned “Green,” the title track, and it is probably the most well-written song here, belying Kody’s twenty-one years as it paints a picture of a couple sleeping in different rooms and miserable after many years together–“it takes a long time to forget what caused a lifetime of regret, and the days slip slowly by, we can run, but we can’t hide.” “Ledges” immediately follows this, as West tries to be a better man; his vocals work well with the instrumentation and lyrics to capture the desperation in both these songs. Another place where the instrumentation and lyrics match perfectly is the dark, slightly sinister “Ogygia,”–the imagery in this one is just great, as West sings about the shadow that follows him around and haunts him. It’s a little hard to explain this in writing, as it relies on metaphors and that dark vibe; it’s really just one you should hear because it’s one of the best on the record. “Million Miles” merges the instrumentation and lyrics well also, although after all that building, when the electric guitars finally do come bursting forth, you wish the solo had gone on longer. One of the more country moments that stands out is “Love me Too,” where West wonders if a woman would return his love–there’s more of that excellent steel guitar here as well.

This is a debut, and it does suffer a little from some of the same things that often plague debut records–you can tell Kody West is still trying to develop his sound and stand out in the ever-growing Texas scene. I think he’s well on his way to doing that with the interesting melodies and variety in instrumentation, but tracks like “For the Last Time” and “IN The Morning” feel more like representations of the style, as opposed to representations of West–I actually quite enjoy the former despite this, but I don’t hear the same passion in these that I do on other tracks. The latter also feels a little underdeveloped lyrically, even though it’s got a lot of that aforementioned steel guitar. “Melody,” the album closer, also feels somewhat out of place, as if it were thrown in as an afterthought. Again, I enjoy this song and its message of faith, but it really doesn’t go with the rest of the album or add much to it.

If you were looking for something new and fresh in Texas country, I suggest starting with Kody West. If you like more country rock instrumentation, this album is definitely a great place to start. There are some nice lyrical moments too, especially on the title track, “Ledges,” and “Ogygia.” This record shows a lot of promise for Kody West–it’s not perfect, but it’s a debut, and Kody West is a name you should keep your eye on.

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