As that familiar fiddle plays the introduction the “The Bird Hunters” a smile cannot help but form across your face as you realize the Turnpike Troubadours are back. After what seemed like forever, (in actuality it has only been three years), the beloved band from Oklahoma will release their fourth, self-titled record on September 18th. The twelve track collection provides listeners with slices of life from the barroom to the country with themes of relationships (some successful, others not), and questioning while revisiting some familiar places and characters in detailed story songs from beginning to end.
As Kyle Nix’s fiddle (which seems to set the tone for every track) draws you in, you feel as if you’re there with the guys, “The Bird Hunters,” hearing their stories of life, love and returning home. Accompanied by robust guitar riffs, that same fiddle, (almost in a manic state) perfectly complements the story of “The Mercury;” a song that mentions some recognized characters, including Lorrie, who hang at said barroom. The rousing “7 Oaks,” with lots of pickin’, piano and harmonica, lets the good times roll, even though the times may not be so good.
The theme of love in its many forms is weaved throughout the remainder of the record. “Time Of Day” is a soulful, bluesy plea to a girl like none he’s ever known to simply give him a minute of her time. “You try to fool me into thinking that you’re so refined/But you’re the kind of liquor make a man go stone blind.” Lyrically melancholy while sonically upbeat “Ringing In The Year” is about that age old situation where you make an incredible connection with someone ("combustible as roman candles" or "tornadoes") and wonder if they ever think about you like you do them. “Cheap champagne don’t know the pain of ringing in the year, wondering if you think of me at all.”
Gentle and beautiful, there’s a powerful simplicity in the emotional “A Little Song,” a plea to prevent her from leaving, to make a wrong a right, and turn back time to the better days. “What a fool to figure forever you’d be mine…..And finding out the only thing I’m needing now to find is finally standing right in front of me/And think I stole a melody/To stop you now from leaving me.”
In “Long Drive Home” Felker truthfully sings “You want something bad you gotta bleed a little for it/You gotta look it in the eye/You gotta call it out by name” acknowledging a musician’s lifestyle, the toll it takes, as well as the sacrifices and effort it involves (both on a personal front and professionally).
A sweet two stepper about missing the city gal who has your heart on “Easton and Main” (originally from Bossier City and given a bit of an update here) gives details of the meeting at Cain's Ballroom “soaking up the bourbon stains,” while “Doreen” (an Old 97's cover) has a reckless western flair with added bits of paranoia, obsession and hurt as he begs his lover to “come clean” if she cheated.
The scaled back instrumentation, reflective questioning and abrupt ending of “Fall Out Of Love” tug at the heart and weigh on the mind. It’s a basic question asked with sincerity, remorse and strain. “Why did it wind up so bad/were the good times all that we had/we laughed and we loved but when push came to shove why did it end up so sad?/How did we fall out of love?” And that smile that was there when it all began? It’s still there when the melodically jubilant “Bossier City” (from their 2007 album of the same name) closes out the record.
The stories, Felker’s everyman vocals, Nix’s fiddle, and the on point musicianship [bassist R.C. Edwards, guitarist Ryan Engelman and drummer Gabe Pearson] combine into something beyond special. The uniqueness in their artistry, whether raucous tunes or lovelorn ballads, resonates with their listeners. You can’t compare Turnpike Troubadours to anyone else, and you shouldn’t. They’re in a class by themselves, proving you can do things your own way and do it successfully. It’s a record that is certainly one of the “must haves” of the year, and one that is sure to draw in listeners not only from Oklahoma and Texas, but well beyond.