Tag Archives: Turnpike Troubadours

Highlights from Medicine Stone 2017

It’s a great thing as a proud Oklahoman to see what the Turnpike Troubadours and Jason Boland have started in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, with Medicine Stone. It’s a wonderful three-day experience of music and fellowship on the Illinois River, and I recommend going if you like Texas and Red Dirt music, or even just live music in general. The people are great too, and I was glad to go back for a second year. Last year, I tried to cover as many bands as possible–though it is physically impossible to see all of them because some of them play on different stages at the same time–so this time, I wanted to write something a little different. I thought overall, the fifth Medicine Stone was even better than the fourth, and I really enjoyed almost everyone I saw. So rather than reiterating that for a bunch of different artists, I thought I’d highlight some of the lesser known artists that impressed me, and maybe introduce some of you to their music. We all know Randy Rogers and Boland and Turnpike can put on a good show–that’s why they were the three headliners–so I want to focus more on some of the other names. (Also, if you want to see me gushing about Turnpike’s live performance ability, you’ll likely get that in a month when I attend their album release party.) Anyway, the point to be taken here is that I probably enjoyed artists I’m leaving off this list–these are just some that stood out and deserve some recognition.

Suzanne Santo

Medicine Stone came under some fire in 2016 for only having two women on the lineup. This was taken into account, and several more women were included on the 2017 list, many of them highlights of the whole weekend. I didn’t know Suzanne Santo before she took the main stage to open things Thursday night, but I am a fan now. She has a new album out that you will find a review for shortly.

Shane Smith & the Saints

Friends, if you’re not listening to Shane Smith & the Saints, you’re doing it all wrong. One of the best things I saw both last year and this year. Phenomenal harmonies, ridiculous fiddle playing, good songwriting, interesting production…just get on board with this band. Massively underrated. I don’t know why more people aren’t writing about them. And for the ones who are already in on the awesomeness, go see them live. Also, you’ll be glad to know they are working on a new record!

Shinyribs

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Shinyribs aren’t going to be for everyone, as proven by my cousin’s reaction to this. But they should be, and I do hope they will keep coming back to Medicine Stone. I’ve been wanting to see them live since I discovered their latest album, and yeah, it lives up to everything you hear about it. Just fun. They don’t take themselves too seriously, and I like that. Get on board with them as well.

Sunny Sweeney

This was Sunny Sweeney’s first time at Medicine Stone, and all I can say is, please bring her back. One of the best performers as far as the more country side of Red Dirt goes. And really good interaction with us all. Also, just saying, she needs to record that lovely song she sang for us called “Whiskey Richard.” Just saying. She said it won’t get cut, but I think it should. I’d also like to point out that as a huge Sunny Sweeney fan but not necessarily a huge Trophy fan, I actually liked the songs from that album much better after hearing them live. Her personality made them come alive a lot more onstage.

Red Shahan

I’d like to apologize to the entire Medicine Stone community for not seeing Red Shahan last year–as I said, it’s physically impossible to see everyone, but I heard a lot of people tell me I should have seen him, and you know what? They were right. Good Lord, this is just a cool artist. Just as I said Sunny stood out among the more country artists, Red Shahan stood out among the artists with more rock leanings. He definitely needs to come back.

jaime lin wilson

Jamie Lin Wilson

Jamie Lin Wilson played at a smaller stage this year, and I was upset at first because she’d been on the main stage in 2016–but she shines in this intimate setting. She was one of the standouts last year, and she was even better this time. Also, I may have gotten to hear a song she wrote that Evan Felker added a verse to, and yes, it will be on the new Turnpike album. And Jamie Lin, we need some more new music from you soon.

Kaitlin Butts

The opposite of what I said about Jamie Lin applies to Kaitlin Butts–she was moved from a smaller stage to the main stage, and this is much better for her. All that attitude and energy is freer in this setting. She said she’s been to Medicine Stone all five years, and she should keep coming. Another one of these that’s massively underrated. Maybe not quite as much now after her song with Flatland Cavalry, but still. Get to know her, she’s one of Oklahoma’s best-kept secrets.

Jason Boland & the Stragglers

Okay, I’m breaking my own rule. Last year, Turnpike blew me away,and this year it was Jason Boland, and even though I’m trying to focus on lesser-known artists, I can’t ignore the outstanding live show that Jason Boland & the Stragglers put on. Best headliner I saw, and a tie between this and Shane Smith & the Saints for the best thing I heard all weekend. Something especially sweet when you get to sit there as an Oklahoman watching an Oklahoma-based band absolutely murdering the song “If I Ever Get Back to Oklahoma.”

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: Turnpike Troubadours– Diamonds and Gasoline

When Megan and I began discussing this feature and how it’d be all about albums released prior to the birth of Country Exclusive, I knew I had to do an article on Turnpike Troubadours’ breakout album, Diamonds & Gasoline. The band have continued to gain in popularity and musical genius, but I figured why not talk about the album that really got things going for them? Plus, it’s where I first discovered the Turnpike Troubadours, and it’s become one of my favorite albums.

Release Date: 2010
Style: Red Dirt, Country
Who Might Like This Album: Fans of Jason Boland & the Stragglers, fans of traditional country music with lots of fiddle
Standout Tracks: “Every Girl,” “7 & 7,” “The Funeral,” “Diamonds and Gasoline,: “Long Hot Summer Day”
Reflections: If you haven’t heard this album, by the end of the first two songs, you’ll know what you’re in for. Lots of fiddle, some awesome guitar, and the thing that makes Turnpike Troubadours just so much more, outstanding lyrics. Evan Felker is an amazing songwriter, weaving alliteration and deeper thinking into songs that are also catchy, and that display the talent these guys have. You’d think “7 & 7” was just another drinking song, but it’s actually not. It’s based around the line “I had no clue I’d be the boy who your mama warned you about”. Stuff like that just shows off the greatness of the lyrics. “Every Girl” should have been a hit song outside of the Red Dirt and Texas country movement, because it’s just so upbeat and catchy, plus that fiddle play! Who can forget that fiddle? The title track proves that the band can do acoustic songs very well, too. All in all, this was an amazing release. The band hadn’t been together very long when this album came out, and I just find it pretty astounding that the songwriting was so deep, the playing so skilled, and how well it all came together. It’s a fantastic listen all the way through. In short, if you haven’t heard this album, you’re missing out on some amazing country music. If you’ve liked the newer albums by the Turnpike Troubadours and haven’t given this one a listen, what are you waiting for?

Buy the Album




Album Review: Saints Eleven–Coming Back Around

Rating: 8/10

Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows it is one of my personal favorite things to highlight the Red Dirt music coming out of Texas and Oklahoma. Growing up, I heard it all the time on my local Oklahoma stations, and when it began to virtually disappear from the airwaves a few years ago, I marked it as just another instance of quality country music being forsaken for the sake of commercial success. It wasn’t really until I started this blog that I realized many country fans all across the nation and the world had never heard the Red Dirt music which was a part of my heritage. One of my proudest moments running this site was last year when I reviewed the self-titled album by the Turnpike Troubadours, helping to introduce people for the first time to a band I’ve known since the beginning of their existence. It’s true that Texas country/Red Dirt can claim its fair share of bad music and radio-friendly singles, but highlighting the tremendous amount of quality music it produces has become of special importance to me. With that in mind, I come to my thoughts on the third studio album from Saints Eleven, a Texas-based band who have been making a name for themselves within this scene for several years. Lead singer Jeff Grossman promised a return to their roots with this record, and I came in eager to hear it.

The album opens with “My Heart,” and right away, I have to point out the fiddle. Turnpike Troubadours fans, this might satisfy your need for fiddle until they release their next album. The actual song is a nice love song about a man proposing to a woman and telling her that nothing will ever keep them apart. The title track, “Coming Back Around,” brings the signature blend of fiddles and rock guitars so familiar in Texas music. The narrator here is seeking redemption and apologizing to God and everyone for everything he’s done in the past. He knows he’s done a lot of things wrong, but now he is changing and “coming back around.” “Heartbreak Songs” is an ode to the classic country songs about cheating and drinking that seem to have disappeared. There are lots of songs lamenting this, but this one stands out because the man needs the songs to help him through his loneliness; Bring back those old lonesome heartbreak songs, they make me feel better, and not so alone.”

“Shelter Me” is a contradiction; it’s an upbeat, fun song about hard times and pain, and needing a shelter through life’s struggles. It reminds me of “Seven Oaks” by Turnpike Troubadours in the fact that both songs make you smile about otherwise depressing things. An album highlight is “For Those Who Came,” a song in which a dead man is addressing his family and friends, all those that came to his funeral. He seems more upset for them than for himself because he knows he is going to a better place. The piano and acoustic guitar blend really well in this song, and I almost wish drums hadn’t come in in the middle. “Sunday drive” is the antithesis of “Shelter Me,” the former lamented all of life’s hardships while this one embraces the little things in life like Sunday drives, spending time with family, and making a difference in the lives of others. It’s interesting that they are separated by a song about death because they represent vastly different ways of going through life. Track placement is important, and I think these three tell a bigger story together than individually.

The only song not written by Grossman is a cover of “Crying Time” by Buck Owens. This is vastly different to the original, and I much prefer this lighthearted version of a heartbreak song. “Strange Round Here” tells the story of a married man who leaves town to find work and has an affair with a waitress, who mysteriously goes missing after telling him she’s pregnant. I am a fan of story songs in general, although this one ends a bit abruptly and could have been slightly more developed. “Almost Home” seems to be autobiographical; it’s a song about a man on the road trying to console his wife and children. “Let Them Go” features Courtney Patton, a name that immediately gave it promise. The man turns to alcohol for comfort while his wife prays to God and wonders why her husband can’t reach out to her instead. He never quits drinking and eventually dies. It’s definitely another high point of the album, and Courtney Patton’s voice certainly adds to it. The album closes with “The Same,” a nice love song that ends the record on much the same note as it began. This one features some excellent steel guitar and tells of a couple who enjoy spending time together regardless of what they are doing.

This is a really solid album and a nice introduction to Saints Eleven. It’s definitely country throughout, and the instrumentation is certainly the record’s greatest strength. The songwriting is solid, and the music seems to come from an honest place. The strongest tracks are “My Heart,” the title track, “For Those Who Came,” and “Let Them Go.” There’s nothing really groundbreaking about this release, but it’s a good album from start to finish and a nice place to begin with Saints Eleven.

Listen to Album

Concert Review: The 4th Annual Medicine Stone

Last weekend, I had the great opportunity to attend Medicine Stone, known by its web site as “the fastest-growing Red Dirt experience in Oklahoma.” Started in 2013 and organized by Turnpike Troubadours and Jason Boland, Medicine Stone is a three-day event held on the Illinois River in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, featuring Texas/Red Dirt music in all its forms–from the more traditional country sound of Jamie Lin Wilson to the rock sound of Cody Canada and the Departed, and everything in between. The sounds in Red dirt music and at Medicine stone are quite diverse, but there is a common thread running through it all, the quality of the music and the care that these artists put into their songs.

It was impossible to see everyone, due to artists playing in different locations at the same time, but I tried to experience as much as possible. I’ll only cover the artists I heard, but here is a link to the complete lineup of artists. It is quite an impressive and diverse list.

The event kicked off on Thursday with artists playing in a bar on site before the main stage area opened. I was impressed with my first exposure to Bleu Edmondson, who performed his Red Dirt hits such as “$50 and a Flask of Crown.” Shane Smith & the Saints, of Austin, Texas, opened on the main stage–with their harmonies, smart lyrics, and unique sound, they were definitely one of the highlights of the whole weekend. Shane Smith mentioned that they had come to Medicine Stone in 2015 and played in the bar, and that they had been invited to play on the main stage this year because of the tremendous amount of positive feedback and requests to hear more. I think they have a bright future in the Texas scene, and I highly recommend getting to know this band. William Clark Green and Stoney LaRue followed, both of whom have been established in the Red Dirt scene for years. Green performed many of his hits, as well as snippets of the Beatles and the Rolling stones. Stoney laRue made his mark on the event with what he described as the song that made his career, “Oklahoma Breakdown.” There is something special about hearing this live in Oklahoma, with thousands of fellow Oklahomans all singing along to it. The night closed with the excellent Randy Rogers Band, a more laidback, country sound after the rock leanings of both William Clark Green and Stoeny LaRue. The thing that impressed me the most about the Randy Rogers Band was how much their live music sounds like their recordings; it is a testament to the commitment to live music throughout this subgenre of music.

Friday offered the best lineup, and the attendance reflected this. Before the main stage opened, I had the opportunity to see two artists I’d never heard of, Kaitlin Butts and Midnight River Choir. Kaitlin Butts is a name you should check out if you like more traditional country–she sang many times with just her guitar, and when her band broke into Merle Haggard’s “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink,” she had the entire crowd dancing. Midnight River Choir is a name you should check out if you like the more country rock sound of Texas music; I regretted that their performance overlapped Kaitlin’s because most people missed one or the other, and both were unsung standouts of Medicine Stone.

The main stage opened that night with the increasingly popular Jamie Lin Wilson, whom I also had the pleasure of interviewing during the festival; you can read that interview on Country Exclusive in the coming days! Wilson’s set was the most country of the weekend on the main stage, and a highlight of her time onstage was the murder song “Roses by the Dozen,” before which she advised us, “If you need someone to come creep out your festival, just call me.” Micky & the Motorcars followed, bringing a mix of country and rock, with more upbeat material. Reckless Kelly, another household name in the Red Dirt scene, came out next and performed many songs from their new album, Sunset Motel, released Friday and available for the first time at Medicine Stone. This band was another standout, singing everything from Merle Haggard to Bruce Springsteen covers and doing justice to both. They easily offered the most diverse sound within their set, and because of this, everyone could have found something to like from them. The Americana band American Aquarium, from Raleigh, North Carolina, followed; they seemed slightly out of place among the many Texas and Oklahoma-based artists, and theirs was the only set that I didn’t enjoy throughout. However, the quality and care in their music was much the same, and they showed it on highlights like “Losing Side of Twenty-Five.” The lead singer, BJ Barham, stated that “if we can get 6,000 people to come to the middle of fucking nowhere just to listen to some music, it proves people still care about music.” The night closed with Turnpike Troubadours, and I could have devoted an entire article to their performance alone–all I can say about them is please, please go listen to them live. Nothing I can say will do them justice. From the moment they kicked off with “Doreen,” until they closed with “Long Hot Summer Day,” they had the attention of everyone in the crowd. I heard a lot of great music each day, but the Turnpike Troubadours are on another level.

There were several artists on Saturday that I didn’t experience. I got to hear Cody Canada and the Departed, the most rock-leaning group there, and probably in the whole Red Dirt scene. It impressed me how many different sounds the organizers of Medicine Stone incorporated into the event. The Departed played some new songs and some of the Cross Canadian Ragweed hits. Also, I just want to point out, as rock influenced as they are, fiddle and steel were featured prominently in several of their songs–take note, mainstream Nashville. The night closed with Jason Boland & the Stragglers, another band you should absolutely see live. They, like Randy Rogers Band, sound very similar live to their recordings.

Texas/Red dirt is very hard to define. It can be country or rock and is usually a unique mix of the two. Cody Canada said onstage that “it is a community of people who share each other’s songs and love for music.” However you define it, there is something common in all of it, raw honesty in songs, the quality of the material, and the unwavering commitment to live music. Turnpike Troubadours and Jason Boland have accomplished a great thing by creating an event to celebrate this unique subgenre, and anyone with a love for country, rock, or just real, quality music should consider attending Medicine stone.