Artist: Turnpike Troubadours
Title: A Long Way from Your Heart
Release Date: October 20, 2017
Length: 39 min.
Label: Bossier City
Personnel: Evan Felker (Vocals, Banjo, Acoustic Guitar, Harmonica), Hank Early (Backing Vocals, Accordion, Dobro, Pedal Steel Guitar, Piano), R.C. Edwards (Backing Vocals, Bass), Ryan Engleman (Electric Guitar), John Fullbright (Backing Vocals, Piano), Kyle Nix (Backing Vocals, Fiddle), Gabriel Pearson (Backing Vocals, Drums, Percussion), Ed Roth (Hammond Organ, Piano), and Jamie Lin Wilson (Backing Vocals)
This is going to be a review along with a discussion of why I’ve been loving the music of the Turnpike Troubadours, whom I discovered just this year, and a mention of my history with music. So it won’t be my usual, more straightforward review style.
Country, bluegrass, Southern rock, and folk were the most important music genres to my musical tastes as they matured. Growing up, I listened primarily to bluegrass and gospel music. My whole family played bluegrass and gospel music, and from the time I was a kid, about eight years old, I, myself, was playing that music as well in a couple different bands. I continued to play, off and on, all the way up through college.
Then, when I was a young teenager, I discovered the country music of the bluegrass artist I most revered: Ricky Skaggs. During the ’80s, Ricky Skaggs was a significant part of the neotraditional country movement, which is itself often credited with saving the country genre from extinction at that time. Regardless of whether you think that is a good or bad thing, you must understand country music’s impact on American culture, even American history. The fact that neotraditional country, and Ricky Skaggs as an important piece of that, saved the genre is a good thing, admirable. I took in all this knowledge, and it helped me grow.
Not long after this, I discovered Lynyrd Skynyrd and Southern rock, especially Skynyrd’s official debut, Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd. This led me to – though some may scoff at this – realize the emotion, complexity, and nuance that could lie in the different kinds of music to which I hadn’t yet listened, especially rock, and, much later, heavy metal.
I love all sorts of music now as an adult, but the thing that most draws me to any artist is excellence. It doesn’t have to be excellence in every single musical performance area. I love Bob Dylan, for instance, for his excellence in lyricism and his ability to communicate unique thoughts and ideas that would be clumsy or heavy-handed if presented in other ways. I love metal for the complexity of instrumentation that can come along with the best that genre has to offer. This all came from my roots in bluegrass and that particular area of Americana, as I’ve been babblingly trying to communicate here in the last several sentences.
In the indie country band Turnpike Troubadours, I hear the genres and sounds that really influenced me and helped grow my musical tastes as they and I matured, and I have been loving my exploration of the Troubadours’ discography. The Turnpike Troubadours are sort of a mix between the bluegrass – both traditional and progressive – and the country of Ricky Skaggs and the folk and folk rock of Bob Dylan. They also have some more traditional and general country elements and some roots rock elements. But most of all, they have tight instrumentation that piques my interest, even though they are playing with a more minimalistic, stripped-down country and Americana style (there aren’t usually many instruments playing at once), and the lyrics are sharp and thoughtful. Not only that, but also, much in the way Bob Dylan did, the characters in the Troubadours’ lyrics are informed by these three things: American life experiences, American literature, and American history.
I love it. These sorts of lyrics bring a quality to the Turnpike Troubadour’s music that few artists really bring, rich characters who all live in their own interconnected universe. This quality is what makes me most engaged in the Turnpike Troubadours’ music.
Yet, like I said, the Troubadours also provide great instrumentation. This is truly a band, fully realized. The drums are more flavorful than the majority of country drums. The guitar work is really good, very solid, whether acoustic, electric, or slide. And the album contains a constant throughline violin, or fiddle, as if the fiddle is one of the most important instrumental parts of the Troubadours’ music.
These guys are playing music that works no matter the setting. It could be performed on a back porch in the Ozarks, in a trailer park in Oklahoma, on a grand stage at any music festival, at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, or on the street in Austin. It’s good, quality country, with hints of bluegrass, folk, and roots rock. If you like Bob Dylan, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Ricky Skaggs, Old Crow Medicine Show, Christ Stapleton, etc., you’ll like the Turnpike Troubadours.
This is indie country, where, honestly, much of the best country is these days. Sometimes, though, that music has the tendency to be what I call “university country”? It has the tendency to be a bit immaturely pretentious. Sometimes, it seems as if it’s being performed by artists who have left their roots and don’t want to go back, think they’re better than that, yet, at the same time, they don’t want to lose their connection to their roots, for whatever reason. This music can and does appeal to but a small group of people. The Turnpike Troubadours’ songs, on the other hand, appeal to just about everyone: the folks back home, the country boy, the redneck, the hillbilly, the university student, and the executive. It appeals to the person who wears a Carhartt coat and knows the importance of a Browning Auto-5, as the track “The Housefire” mentions, yet it also appeals to the person who’s rarely seen trees outside a city park. It’s music for everyone, and that’s the best kind of country.
My favorite tracks here are “The Housefire,” “The Winding Stair Mountain Blues,” “Pay No Rent,” “The Hard Way,” and “Pipe Bomb Dream,” though I do enjoy each and every track.
I’m going to give Turnpike Troubadours’ A Long Way from Your Heart a 93%.
I think this is the Troubadours’ best effort thus far.