In one respect, we live in a blessed time in country music. If it was 1986, the superpickers of our generation would be stuffing a sock down the front of their spandex tights as hair designers kink their bangs and perm their mullet, getting them ready to go on stage and pull some ungodly bad bubblegum butt rock out of a Korean replica flying V guitar. But instead, it’s hip if you have fast fingers to pick up a banjo, or a mando, or a violin, grow a beard, and kick it old school. Thank God.
The fact that I hadn’t even heard of Trampled by Turtles until about 10 days ago proves just how crowded the landscape is with superpicking pseudo bluegrass bands, but the Turtle’s album Palomino quickly sets them apart. It was suggested to me in a discussion about the best albums of the year so far, and after some spins, I agree wholeheartedly it deserves to be in the discussion.
At some point it is just humanly impossible to play your instruments any faster, and this album has that element which is usually the quickest to be ballyhooed about these such bands. But it also has soul. Some were worried that this album would be too slick for me. What, you think The Triggerman can’t be a little classy? No reason to be ashamed of top notch production and mastering, and in fact when you can get away with it and yet still retain the dirt and devil in the music like Trampled By Turtles has done, you deserve extra kudos.
Some were worried I’d get spooked because the band plays sitting down. I actually think this is a genius move, totally unintuitive but making perfect sense at the same time. By sitting, it makes the audience take the music more seriously. It forces you to listen more, and to listen with your ears instead of your eyes. And in a very deep way it ties the music to the past. Its wickedly brilliant.
I think I know what makes this album, and the Turtle’s sound so special. Bluegrass nerds with bigger pocket protectors than mine will probably poke holes in my theory, but what I think is at the heart of the matter is bridging elements of West Coast bluegrass with traditional bluegrass.
Traditional bluegrass is dance music, with straightforward chord progressions and accessible tones. West Coast bluegrass is usually played much slower, and is more artsy, with more complicated chords and more emotional tones and themes. Problem with straightforward traditional bluegrass is it can get boring and predictable to the ear after a while. Problem with West Coast is it can lack the pep and danceability, while sometimes taking itself too seriously or building on ill-conceived notions of bluegrass traditions.
Tramples by Turtles is the best of both worlds: Deep, emotionally soulful-driven songs, but with high energy, and a very strict adherence to the bluegrass rules from a technical standpoint. The Bill Monroe shuffle is there. And the slow songs are 3-time waltzes, as they should be, but again, with more emotional chords to really make you really feel them. For all the stupidly-fast songs on this album, the slow waltz “Bloodshot Eyes” might be the standout track. Makes sense they could split the difference, as the Minnesota-based band resides between Washington State and West Virginia.
I can anticipate some people will grumble that this band is just a cleaner version of their favorite band they’ve been listening to for years. Yes they have a little mainstream support and a pretty CMT video (see below). But these guys have been working in obscurity for six years themselves, and can’t be blamed for finding a little success with this album, which peaked at #1 on the US Bluegrass charts. Palomino is an accomplishment, and any prejudicial stance against it is only robbing music enrichment from your life. Yes, this album is one of the best so far this year.
Two guns up!
You can purchase Palomino and preview all songs by CLICKING HERE.