POSTED ON MARCH 17, 2010:
Turnpike Troubadours paint pictures from the road
Rockiní Country. Turnpike Troubadours draw heavily from its country and folk influences in everything from storytelling to instrumentation and infusing it with just a touch of rock and roll energy.
When Brandon Clark introduced me to the music of Turnpike Troubadours roughly two years ago, I knew there was something special going on with this band. The songs rang true and were heartfelt and authentic with a gritty and sometimes slightly raw delivery. Even by nature of the band's name, however, I knew the key to the group was its live show.
Fast forward to 2010 and Turnpike Troubadours are hard-touring road dogs. After building a few key alliances, making connections and booking their own shows, the band has finally signed with a booking agent, keeping the boys busy throughout Oklahoma and Texas and taking them outside their normal boundaries. In fact, the current tour itinerary has the group booked well into south Texas and has already taken them as far north as Minnesota in February.
Traveling for the sake of travel isn't what builds a band, however. It's how the band grows from the experience, whether the consistent gigs make the band grow together or apart, and how it effects the songwriting process. Fortunately (and of no surprise to me), it's all worked to the advantage of Turnpike Troubadours.
As might be expected, there have been a few changes within the band. Drummer Chad Masters and guitarist Casey Sliger have stepped away from the group, with their spots filled by Giovanni Carnuccio III and Ryan Engleman, respectively. John Fullbright, who appeared on the debut disc, stepped away shortly thereafter but has remained close with the band (even lending contributions to the current disc), and multi-instrumentalist Kyle Nix has been with the band long enough to feel like an original member.
Overall, however, the shift in membership hasn't hurt or hindered the band. More than anything, the changes have been a matter of nature running its course as the members have dedicated themselves to be a full-time touring band.
The true test, however, is how a band develops in its songwriting, and with sophomore release Diamonds and Gasoline, the band has taken a huge leap forward from its debut, Bossier City. Lyrically, the songs ring just as authentic as before, but there's an evident growth in the writing as everything falls into place with an ease and grace.
Perhaps that's because many of these songs have been road tested and broken in during the course of the two years between releases. Surely, that has played some part, but even the newest songs display the ease and comfort that is evident on the disc as a whole. "Funeral," which was written with producer Mike McClure during the recording of the album, and "Leaving and Lonely," which Even Felker and RC Edwards wrote during preparations to go into the studio, both stand just as strong as any of the other tunes on the disc.
More than anything else with this disc, it seems that Turnpike Troubadours has settled into its true identity. Perhaps, however, it's just a matter of that identity becoming more apparent to the listener. As I've watched the band develop, there hasn't been a noticeable shift in attitude or sound, just a slight refinement. The Troubadours are more influenced by pure country than most of their peers, whether considering they are Red Dirt or not. That's not something you see too often within Green Country -- most acts wear a little bit of country twang to offset their rock tendencies as they hit the honky-tonk bar circuit. Turnpike Troubadours turns that formula on end, however, drawing heavily from its country and folk influences in everything from storytelling to instrumentation and infusing it with just a touch of rock and roll energy.
The songwriting is consistent throughout the disc, defaulting mostly to guitarist and lead singer Even Felker, with nary a weak track. Felker said that his songs dominating the album was more a matter of coincidence than anything. Each of the band members writes on a consistent basis, with some songs working well for the band and others falling away.
Even though Felker's writing might dominate, everyone has a say and it's obvious that everyone is on the same page as RC Edwards' contributions, "Kansas City Southern" and "Leaving and Lonely," stand strong and easily hold their place alongside the rest of the songs on the disc. In fact, "Kansas City Southern" is one of the disc's highlights, building on the band's country roots with a strong two-step groove and a sweet-spot for both Engleman's twangy guitar tones and Kyle Nix's fiddle playing.
The true spotlight of the album comes mid-disc, however, with "The Funeral," a vivid slice of storytelling that should be a perfect single to release to Texas radio, followed by title track "Diamonds and Gasoline." "Diamonds" rings as authentic as anything on the disc, revealing the sheer intimacy and honesty of the band's writing. Packaged back to back, the pair is a perfect example of what this band is all about and why it continues to build its fan base.
Turnpike Troubadours will be in town, opening for Mike McClure Band at The Otherside Saturday night, March 20. Together, the two acts will provide a great sampling of what rural Oklahoma music has to offer. McClure is highly revered within Red Dirt circles for his songwriting and playing and a grittier rock vibe. Turnpike Troubadours complement that nicely with a sound that is more country based, but storytelling that's just as vivid. When paired together, this will be a "don't miss" evening and one of the best in a series of Oklahoma/Red Dirt shows that the recently renovated Otherside Club has featured to try and put the venue back in the local spotlight.
If you haven't crossed paths with Turnpike Troubadours yet, now is the time. We'll likely be seeing less and less of the group as they truly hit their stride and break out of the Oklahoma/Texas circuit as the year progresses. And if you're a pure country fan, you won't want to miss an opportunity to pick up Diamonds and Gasoline, easily one of the best local country albums I've heard in the past two years.
Things are admittedly a little slow this weekend as we've got quite a few bands and fans in Austin for SXSW. If you're one of the unlucky ones who couldn't swing a trip to a music fans' Mecca, like myself, we've still got a few prime shows to choose from, as well as a few key bands swinging through on their way back north from the big conference and showcase. As always, we've got the highlights, so check these out if you're looking for something cool to check out.
Thursday evening, March 18, slows down a little as we all recover from St. Patrick's Day, but Watermelon Slim brings the blues to Flytrap Events Center, while Soundpony keeps the indie rock aesthetic alive with Uhuzi, Paper Bear and A Lull.
Friday night, March 19 is feeling pretty chill as well, with the best gigs promising to be Klondike 5's kinetic indie-bluegrass at Soundpony, Steve Lidell spreading love at Hunt Club and Ordinary Outlaws showing up at Mercury Lounge. Or better yet, stop in at The Colony for a night with one of our hottest up and coming improve bands, Ego Culture.
Saturday is arguably the biggest night of the week with Black Eyed Peas landing at BOK Center for a show with LMFOA and Ludacris. If you keep your ear to the ground and know the right people, rumor has it a private after party is planned somewhere in the downtown area as well.
Elsewhere around town, country and Red Dirt rule the Tulsa scene with Kevin Fowler playing Cain's Ballroom and the aforementioned Mike McClure/Turnpike Troubadours show at The Otherside. If you're looking to get your rock groove out, however, stop in at The Colony with Miniver Cheevy.
Sunday night, March 21, has a pair of high profile shows going on downtown. The question is: What's your preference? Modern/indie rock or Blues? If you're the rock kid, you won't want to miss Black Rebel Motorcycle Club at Cain's with Band of Skulls and Pretty Black Chains. Rumor has it that Michael Been (lead singer of The Call) is even working front of the house sound for his son's band, so keep your eyes open to see if you recognize him. Meanwhile, on the other side of the tracks, John Lee Hooker Jr. releases a storm of blues at Flytrap Events Center with Dustin Pittsley Band opening the show.
Cain's Ballroom dominates the early week with a pair of killer shows at Bob's. Monday night features OKC boys Uglysuit with Gringo Starr, while Tuesday evening sees a prompt return for 100 Monkeys, following an appearance at SXSW. It's sure to be another sold out show.
Finally, Wednesday evening is a great night to get out as Gooding (Yes -- Gooding! No more legal hassles or having to cloak the band in the Angel/Devil moniker!). These guys have long been a Tulsa favorite and with the band's latest Internet release, appropriately titled The Return, the group is back in the saddle and back at full power. Don't miss your chance to reconnect with this killer power trio!
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