Personnel: Evan Felker (vocals, acoustic guitar, banjo, harmonica); John Fullbright (vocals, acoustic guitar, banjo, accordion, piano); Kyle Nix (vocals, fiddle); Gabe Pearson (vocals, drums, percussion); R.C. Edwards (vocals); Thomas Trapp (acoustic guitar); Ryan Engleman (electric guitar); Byron Berline (fiddle); Grady Don Stradlin (percussion).
Audio Mixer: Wes Sharon.
Recording information: 115 Studios, Norman, OK; Prairie Sun Studios, Cotati, CA.
Photographer: Justin Voight.
The Turnpike Troubadours, the eponymous fourth album from the red dirt country journeymen, careens into view slowly with "The Bird Hunters," a melancholic waltz that recalls some of the sadder moments from its predecessor, 2012's Goodbye Normal Street. Much of that record underscored the dusty literary aspirations of lead singer/songwriter Evan Felker but, appropriately enough for an album named after the band as a whole, this record puts equal emphasis on head, heart, and muscle, easing between simple heartbroken laments and full-throated roars. Felker's voice and writing are plainspoken but not pedestrian; there's a soulful undercurrent to his simplicity, his modesty never seeming affected, his working-class anthems never showy. As subtle and lived-in as these songs are, what really makes The Turnpike Troubadours kick is the band itself. While they've never been restrained on record, this 2015 LP feels brawny and also sensitive, the band capable of leaning into the song so the rampaging minor-key stomp "Doreen" possesses a sad, menacing edge, "The Mercury" drowns out all sorrow, and "Fall Out of Love" plays like a balm straight out of Muscle Shoals. As always, the key to the success of the Turnpike Troubadours -- both as a band and in this album in particular -- is that they never draw attention to their depth and how they occupy a wide, woeful territory where laments heal and parties can feel reassuringly lonely. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine