Trampled by Turtles – Life is Good on the Open Road
Thirty Tigers – 1 June 2018
Following last year’s devastating post-divorce (“marital suicide’) confessional album Furnace as Dead Man Winter, David Simonett has reassembled his Minnesota sextet, lightening the mood somewhat for their first band release in four years, the line-up remaining with himself, bassist Tim Saxhaug, banjo man Dave Carroll, mandolinist Erik Benny, Ryan Young on fiddle and cellist Eamonn MClain.
Partly informed by the passing of Tom Petty, who died the day they first reassembled in banjo player Carroll’s cabin it opens by restating their bluegrass credentials with the fiddle and banjo-driven romp Kelly’s Bar, a reference to a joint in Red Wing where Simonett used to hang out and a number that reminds me somewhat of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant’s 60s bluegrass classic Rocky Top.
Things slow down for Simonett’s reedy keening vocals on the more reflective toned We All Get Lonely which comes with a catchy chorus hook and the discomfortingly memorable image of “Everyone you never wanted to run into again/Is sitting at this bar next to each other.”
Scratchy persistent fiddle lines kick the tempo back up again for The Middle, a song that lyrically seems to hark back to the divorce and the album largely follows an alternatingly fast/slow approach. The former is ably embodied in the subtly political banjo-driven Annihilate with its reference to the man up on the hill who doesn’t like you, mandolin showcase Right Back Where We Started (which echoes the opening melody and reminds you where the Lumineers found their blueprints) and the brief, instrumentally frantic race of Blood In The Water.
The regret-stained, forlornly sung I’m Not There Anymore with its croonerish dreamy slow sway melody, cello and banjo is probably the closest they get here to a ballad; however, I’d argue that the more mid-tempo numbers are the strongest. Led by the waltz time Thank You John Steinbeck (another divorce-based number, “I left in a hurry, my clothes barely buttoned/And Travels With Charley tucked under my arm”), a number which finds a wanderlust echo in the musically understated title track, it’s reinforced by sprightly lope-along I Went To Hollywood’s wry comment on being out of step (“I went to Hollywood but I showed up too late”).
Preceded by the string band instrumental Good Land, the road ends with I Learn The Hard Way, guitar, cello, banjo and mandolin providing the bedrock to as bittersweet song of acceptance, Simonett’s voice rising and falling over a bluegrass gospel-shaded melody as he sings “The water is rising/There’s nothing out there for us…..I know you can’t save me/But I know that’s all right.”
The band went into hiatus because, like Simonett’s marriage, the chemistry wasn’t working any more, the familiar becoming a prison rather than a refuge. I don’t know what the relationship between him and his ex-wife is like these days, but it seems pretty clear that he’s talking about the band when, on the title track, he sings “We’re closer now than we’ll ever know/The light inside you comes and goes/But it never really goes out.” Reunited and, as another set of Turtles put it, happy together, the good news is, its shining brightly.
They play The Electric Ballroom, London on Fri 16 November 2018
More dates here: http://trampledbyturtles.com/