Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Turnpike Troubadours "A Long Way From Your Heart" Album Review

"A Long Way From Your Heart" is the Turnpike Troubadours' fifth album and quite possibly their best yet.  The Oklahoma band draws deep into regional subject matter and characters come to life with their brand of Americana.  TpT are comprised of RC Edwards on bass and harmony, Ryan Engleman on electric guitar, Evan Felker on lead vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica, and banjo, Kyle Nix on fiddle and harmony, and Gabriel Pearson on drums, percussion, and harmony.  Hank Early recently joined on accordion, pedal, and dobro, filling out the already rich melodies of the band.

Kicking off the album is the lead single "The Housefire," a song as much about the human spirit as a house fire.  Listeners familiar with Turnpike's music will recognize Lorrie, a character from two other songs, stemming from the imagination of principal songwriter Evan Felker.  It's love at first listen, with Lorrie grabbing the baby and "...We made it safe outside...She never missed a note...Took a breath and cleared her throat...and wrapped him in a Carhartt coat she found out in my ride..."  There's a lot of heartache heard in the character's voice but also a buoyant tone knowing it all works out.  Felker has a way of weaving an entire movie into song, the lyrics are so vivid making the characters come to life.

"The Winding Stair Mountain Blues" is a standout track featuring blazing fiddle and banjo.  The storyline revolves around two childhood friends who drift apart when one falls into trouble.  He appears to be living off the land in the Winding Stair Mountains of southeastern Oklahoma until the law catches up with him.  This is Felker at his best, blasting through the song with fervor, driving the message home.

"Unrung" deals with a friend who's concerned about his friend's choice in women.  It doesn't cover new ground but its lush melody and instruments wrap around the gloom of the relationship.  Meanwhile, "A Tornado Warning" bounces along as if there isn't an impending twister nearby.  It's as much about the girl as it is an actual storm, she's the tornado in his heart.

There's a warm tone that permeates the collection but culminates with the sad yet lovely "Pay No Rent."  A heavy ballad featuring beautiful harmony vocals from Jamie Lin Wilson, this is perhaps the saddest song of the year.  "...Is all this living meant to be or a happy accident..." sums up our short lives on Earth, leaving listeners in a pensive state.

"The Hard Way" is a straight ahead, 80's country mid-tempo romp through the back roads of Oklahoma.  If a perfect song existed for a model of what modern country music should sound like, this would be it.  A drifting cowboy who's "...On the road again off of Highway 10 in a cabin on a rural route...I'm gonna figure out the hard way how fast I can wear my welcome out..."  Everything about this song is sublime, from the opening pedal steel and fiddle to the high flying character tumbling around in Felker's poetic warble.

Another outstanding track is "Pipe Bomb Dream," about a military veteran who hits trouble when he's caught smuggling marijuana into his home state.  Staying in the band's home state, "Oklahoma Stars" switches gears into another pretty ballad featuring Wilson again on harmony vocals.

"Sunday Morning Paper" closes the album with a stark clarity about our musical legends leaving us too soon.  "Sunday morning paper said 'Rock and Roll is surely dead'...something hit me deep down in my soul...Lord I know, it's just Rock and Roll...never one time did I ever dream you wouldn't live forever...bet you never planned on getting old..."  The music world has lost so many iconic artists over the past few years, including Merle Haggard, who's subtly mentioned along with many others.  Music evokes so many images and dreams and is personal on many levels.  When one of our favorites is no longer with us, we feel a loss others may not understand.  That's the true power and beauty of music and is a nice ode to close the album with.

For those who are on the fence about downloading or buying the physical CD (or vinyl), I highly recommend the physical copy.  The curious horse artwork is worth that alone and there's something to be said about the lyrics inserted into the CD.  There's a personal touch one doesn't get from digital.

"A Long Way From Your Heart" is available now.  Do the ears a favor and go buy this fabulous album from one of Americana's best bands.


Sunday, March 5, 2017

"Ruffled Skirts" Album Review

John Schneider's brand new album "Ruffled Skirts" was born from heartache and triumph over Louisiana's historic flooding in 2016.  Having released over a dozen albums, this is the singer's first in over 20 years (not including 2 Christmas works).  Schneider has been out of the musical spotlight, focusing on acting, directing, producing, and opening a production studio in the Bayou state.

"Ruffled Skirts" opens with a sampling of the gospel standard "In The Shelter" before transitioning into the hard driving "The Cajun Navy."  This sets the tone for the remainder of the album, songs full of devastation and hope, and the characters who prevailed.  The Cajun Navy are volunteers who lent a helping hand during the flooding and this honors their time and commitment.

A personal favorite is "Too Much Rain," a heavy ballad marked with Schneider's warm honeyed tenor.  The most powerful line comes on the bridge "...She told me she was going to get in her car and go where it never rains..."  The heartache felt in those lines haunts the rest of the song, leaving the listener wondering if she made it to her destination.

Another standout is "The FEMA Song," a kiss off song dedicated to the government agency was recorded live.  The lyrics add to the sentiment of the raucous crowd, and Schneider's vocals really shine here.

Probably the saddest song listeners will hear this year is "How Do You Stop The Water."  The ballad revolves around a man who's lost everything in the flood, "...Over 60 years of memories that just washed away..." Thoughts of his wife and children who lived in the same house gone, along with all of the cherished belongings.

"Goin' With The Flow," "Five Feet High And Risin'" (a Johnny Cash cover), and "An Act Of God" round out the album's main subject matter, the latter being another outstanding ballad.

"Every Friday Night" is the only tune that doesn't deal with the tragic events of last year's flooding.  It's a fun romp about a boy who grew up on "The Dukes Of Hazzard."  It's a nice diversion from the heaviness of the rest of collection.

"Ruffled Skirts" was recorded in Schneider's living room, part of what was damaged in the floods, and adds to the rawness of the lyrics.  The songs were co-written with Clifton Brown, Scott Innes, and Phil Redrow.  The Cajun Navy band consists of a stellar cast including Carol Bersas, Nelson Blanchard, Randy Carpenter, Bud Carson, Mark DuVelle Doyle, Margaret Fowler, Tammy Watts Hardy, Doug Kershaw, Lauren, Valerie, and Olivia Powell, and Jo-El Sonnier.

"How Do You Stop The Water" and "Every Friday Night" have been released to radio.  The album is available now, go get a copy and treat your ears to real country music.