It’s been three years since the Oklahoma-based quintet Turnpike Troubadours have put out a record—2012’s wildly underrated Goodbye Normal Street—but it was worth the wait.
Friday’s eponymous release has all the hallmarks of old-school Troubadours: rollicking honkytonkers, a familiar cast of characters (Lorrie is back, boys), and an unvarnished storytelling that can be full of longing without grinding any sentimental gears.
There are broken-hearted fools and heartbreakers apiece scattered across this record, but they never feel tired, perhaps because songwriter lead songwriter Evan Felker doesn’t try to get cute with their stories. The narratives unfold organically and Felker has a fantastic ear for patois—he told American Songwriter that he starts by “gathering idioms that are interesting and haven’t been over used.”
One of the strongest songs, The Bird Hunters, opens with an evocative description of two childhood friends out hunting on a cold winter morning, a scene meticulous in its detail: a Belgian-made Browning, an old logging road, the number of birds Danny bags.
You’re a solid minute into the track before the central conflict of the song is introduced: The speaker left his childhood friends behind when he blew his small town for a girl, a relationship that has since imploded into ugly resentment. “Go on to hell, honey, I’m headed home.” He is now faced with returning home, where his fingers are fumbling to reload and friends advise him, “If you had married that girl, you’d’ve married her family.”
In the same American Songwriter interview, Felker called Levon Helm’s “The Weight” a perfect piece of songwriting.
“It takes you on this abstract narrative journey that everybody goes on in different ways,” Felker said.
The same could be said of a lot of the tracks on this new record, where human relationships are the most universal of all our abstract journeys.
In Long Drive Home, a struggling lover wrestles with the staying power of a relationship: “I’m damned if I do, and I’m damned if you don’t.”
“Won’t you miss your whiskey in the wintertime my dear, the way that I’ve been been missing you this fall?” the speaker in Ringing In The Year asks. “Cheap champagne don’t dull the pain of ringing in the year, wondering if you think of me at all.”
Longtime Troubadours fans will recognize a few songs on here—there are slicked-up updates to Easton & Main and Bossier City, from their first release, stand-outs here as they always were.
There’s also a rollicking cover of the Old 97s jam Doreen, which I can’t help but wish they had made a little more their own here. (I still crank up the volume when it hits, though.)
The Felker-Rhett Miller co-write here, A Little Song, is sweet in the best possible way.
Also out this week: The new Lucero record, All A Man Should Do (a hat tip to the Big Star song I’m In Love With a Girl, covered here).
This is another assured, mature record from a band that you can trust for a certain consistency of quality. It’s a quieter record than its horn-heavy recent predecessors, staking its claim on mid-tempo, piano-heavy meditations like opener Baby Don’t You Want Me. But there’s no big surprises here from the eternally world-weary Ben Nichols—“I couldn’t outdrink anyone for nothing, but I’d act like it til I puked or passed out,” he croons with a trademark frank fatigue in I Woke Up In New Orleans. “She asked me why I can’t I just stop drinking. Come on, babe, we both know it’s too late.”
The usual call to action for both of these, y’all: Support your artists and go to the record store or iTunes and spend your money. Also, grab your Lucero tickets for 9:30 on Oct. 11 and Turnpike Troubadours (and the Black Lillies) at the Jeff in Charlottesville on Oct. 28.