After nearly eight years and three albums, you would expect The Turnpike Troubadours might change their sound up a bit and stray from their Red Dirt roots. Their latest self-titled album proves that is not the case.
For those unfamiliar with the band–and if you’re not, you really should be–they’re from Oklahoma and sound like what would come out of a late-night meeting between Woody Guthrie and Waylon Jennings in a small-town dance hall, all while The Pogues played on the jukebox.
The Troubadours are well known for including dynamic themes and stories in their music. Their songs cover a range of folk themes, like what would’ve happened if you had married your high school sweetheart or what it’d be like for a prodigal son to make his way home for the first time in years to attend a funeral.
The band is also well known for taking a while to release material. Their debut album Bossier City came out in 2007, followed by Diamonds and Gasoline in 2010 and Goodbye Normal Street in 2012. Now, three years later, they’ve released their self-titled album.
The Turnpike Troubadours strengthens the band’s reputation for vivid lyrics set to raw, dynamic sound while losing nothing in the process.
Lead singer-songwriter Evan Felker is still at his best when writing stories about love gone wrong and telling tales of common folk making their way through the struggles of life. The same themes from previous albums are explored here, with many songs acting as companions to earlier ones on Normal Street and Diamonds. There’s not a single bad track on this album.
Echoes of earlier songs “Long Hot Summer Day“and “Southeastern Son” can be heard on early singles “The Mercury” and “The Bird Hunters” (“The Mercury” also continues the legend of Lorrie, of “Good Lord Lorrie” from Normal Street.)
“Fall Out of Love” showcases Felker’s way with words and is the closest thing to mainstream country music the band has released to date. Ironically, it’s also the standout track of the album.
The steel guitar, fiddle playing and other musicianship have vastly improved since the group’s major-label debut, Diamonds and Gasoline, and the guitars on “The Mercury” and “Doreen” electrify with the ferocity of punk.
But If the band isn’t straying from their roots, they also aren’t adding anything new to their arsenal. Rather, they’re perfecting what has already been working for them. Why mess with a winning formula?
Listening to all of The Turnpike Troubadours’ albums consecutively, it’s clear they can all be taken as one thematic piece. In the end, this is a band from Oklahoma making music that documents the collective experiences of their hometown, and they’re damn good at it.