Turnpike Troubadours are on the verge of releasing their latest, long-awaited album (out September 18th). Evan Felker and the gang have risen to the top of the Red Dirt heap over the past few years. They’ve been on top of the proverbial artistic mountain for quite a while now.
How did they get here?
Smart songs. Songs that spoke to their audience. Songs that connected with fans across generations and gender. Guys could raise a glass to it, girls could sway to it…and both could sing along. These fantastic songs were backed by a blistering live show They went from releasing Diamonds and Gasoline, touring on it, and watching the slow build go from opening for Josh Grider at Greenfest 10 to headlining the biggest venues and festivals on the circuit within a year. Incredible rise, and richly deserved.
Their meteoric rise mirrored that of bro-country in the mainstream and the least common denominator state-pride girl party anthems that ruled the Texas charts. Instead of just talking about a girl in a demeaning way, Felker’s lyrics on songs such as “7 & 7” humanize the male perspective in a realistic manner and uses a setting as mundane as the grocery store aisle, as opposed to the outrageous macho bravado that was taking place next to the bonfires on the back of tailgates. This smart, subtle difference connected with audiences across all demographics. Goodbye Normal Street continued this trend and was released in a fairly quick fashion behind the Diamonds and Gasoline cycle. Their songs resonate across demographics. Old, young. Male or female. Everybody finds something to identify with…and that’s what has kept the crowds coming.
It’s the reason why Turnpike Troubadours have become so huge despite playing by their own rules and not bending to any silly regional allegiances of playbooks. They’re doing what they want to do and where they want to do it. Much like Ryan Bingham, they’ve grown beyond this scene’s borders by sheer force of will. And they’re the most popular act going right now simply because they don’t have one bad song on any of their albums. Now, it’s a near certainty that this next album will be huge. But, the true test will be the one after that. If the self-titled album to be dropped next month maintains the quality of the first few, their dominance will continue. If it falls short of the high bar they’ve created for themselves, cracks will begin to show.
How will they stay there?
People have been waiting on it for a long time and it’s a what have you done for me lately world. Felker himself admitted in an interview with Justin Frazell at Steamboat last year that he’d “taken his eye off the ball.” The early sneaks at the new album indicate that he and the band have found their swing back in the sweet spot of music. Lead single co-written by Jonny Burke and Kyle Wieters, “Down Here” is classic TT, and other preview tracks show that everything we dig about this band is continuing.
The landscape has changed during this Turnpike turnaround. We’ve seen the rise of Sturgill, the assertion of Stapleton and the knighting of Isbell…all rightfully so. Turnpike Troubadours have earned a seat at that table with their body of work. This self-titled record will plant them there and hopefully expose an even greater, national audience to what we’ve all been digging for five years or more. In an age where album sales numbers pale to stream totals and the main number that matters is what happens at the turnstiles of gigs…Turnpike Troubadours have a vast world in front of them. And, I’m betting they capture it. The Turnpike turnaround will evolve and grow. We’re all lucky just to be along for the ride.