April 30, 2018 Trampled by Turtles – Life is Good on the Open Road (Album Review)
Trampled by Turtles’ music made its way out of Duluth, Minnesota, fifteen years ago. Taking a twist on traditional Bluegrass by throwing in elements of Punk, Folk, Rock, and Americana, a new musical animal was born. Now after staying silent for four years, the band is back with the highly-anticipated Life is Good On the Open Road, presented by BanjoDad Records and available on Friday, May 4th, 2018.
Dave Simonett (guitars, lead vocals, harmonica), Tim Saxhaug (bass, backing vocals), Erik Berry (mandolin, backing vocals), Ryan Young (fiddle, backing vocals), and Dave Carroll (banjo, backing vocals) reconnected at a Minnesota cabin to see if the magic still was there after the time apart. Thankfully, the it was very much still there, and there was no question that fans were right. This is a musical family and it shows: listeners will hear the connection from the first downbeat of the twelve-song album.
Kicking right in with the opening single “Kelly’s Bar,” listeners are welcomed home to the high-energy Bluegrass the quintet are known for. Raucous fiddle leads the way, but to single out Young seems unfair to the masterclass musicianship here. One of the greatest joys is the skilled shift of mood that Trampled by Turtles creates here by following up the barroom party with a song like “We All Get Lonely” with its intense vulnerability. Beautifully crafted, this song is just great songwriting all the way around.
Creating a memorable record is all about putting each piece of the puzzle together so it fits best. Hitting listeners next, the uptempo “The Middle” is possibly the best song of the record. Heartfelt lyricism coupled with frantic instrumentation creates a message that certainly will not be missed by fans and newcomers to Trampled by Turtles music. Enveloped by the easy waltz of “Thank You, John Steinbeck,” this is the heart of Roots Americana music; each element is part of the fabric of who and what America is as a population. This band is subtle in its politicism, and “Annihilate,” with its heavy banjo, has a feel of the 1972 film Deliverance.
Dave Simonett leads the way with constant vocal excellence, and regardless this album is lush with harmonies from his cohorts. “Right Back Where We Started” is a mandolin showcase, followed by the easy feel of the title track. Is that the pull that got “Life is Good On the Open Road” from dream to reality? This cut is beautiful, simply said, with understated instrumentation; restraint can be the be the biggest build a song might have. A complete contrast slams listeners with the Punkgrass “Blood in the Water” nearly two-thirds of the way through the record.
“I Went to Hollywood” is an example of brilliant lyricism reminiscent of The Traveling Wilburys, the supergroup consisting of Tom Petty, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan and Jeff Lynne. The cut is an example of Trampled by Turtles’ genius: subtle craftsmanship sliding into the fabric of the Great American Songbook. Following up with the instrumental “Good Land,” listeners get a place to rest in the heart of who the band is, a wickedly talented string band that can throw down Bluegrass Roots Americana.
Closing out with the melancholy banjo and guitar driven “I Learn the Hard Way,” this love song encompasses the best of Trampled by Turtles. Banjo, mandolin, and guitar take turns in the spotlight with lush harmonies and the crystal clear vocals that define Trampled by Turtles until the final note fades away.
Did this bunch of guys learn that magic is a tangible element when they get together, like it was a barn dance in Northern Minnesota? Listeners have been sure for a very long time. Touching on themes that cross a vast range of emotions, capturing lightning in a bottle is a reality on Life is Good On the Open Road, a literal and metaphorical journey Trampled by Turtles invite listeners to join them on as they wander the open road, oh brilliantly so. That is why CrypticRock give this album 5 out of 5 stars.
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