Song Review – The Turnpike Troubadours – “Mean Old Sun”


Time has proven many of the songs of the Turnpike Troubadours to be much more than the measure of the words and the music. As their songs mature, their meanings become even more rich and sonorous. Mere entertainment is rarely what’s intended with a Turnpike song, and that’s even more rarely the outcome. You enjoy them of course. But over time, the words and melodies become intertwined with your own lived experiences to the point where they feel downright symbiotic with your sense of being.

Fits, starts, and anticipation preceded the first new Turnpike Troubadours song in six years, bisected by a worldwide pandemic, and a hiatus that was indefinite until the spring of last year. A false start via TouchTunes, and a live premier at Stagecoach in California gave birth to videos of terrible audio quality that allowed curious folks to get an early taste of “Mean Old Sun” if they so chose.

But those smart enough to sequester themselves from such subpar offerings are finally basking in the high fidelity version of the lead single to the band’s upcoming album Cat in the Rain, and the accompanying video shot on the dance floor of the legendary Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa, Oklahoma, flanked by the portraits of country music greats.

The first observation about “Mean Old Sun” is that it’s distinctly a Turnpike Troubadours song. Often showing disfavor for the bright chords of pop, and instead finding a more moody experience, this better suits the weighty moments often included in a Turnpike track. They’ve never been hardcore country. They’re more Red Dirt country rock, which their partnership with Shooter Jennings as producer helps facilitate in the song.

What’s for certain is that the Turnpike Troubadours are definitely not elbowing for a place in Americana alongside artists like Jason Isbell and Brandi Carlile, either now or any time in the past. However, Shooter inspiring the band to step a bit outside of their usual groove by beginning the song with some spatially-enhanced banjo and “oohs” definitely gives “Mean Old Sun” an evolutionary element to start the band’s new era.


Like with all Turnpike Troubadours songs, you have to keep an eye on how it may fit into the whole Lorrie universe, but it’s doubtful “Mean Old Sun” is guilty of that. Instead, Even Felker starts off singing about empty promises he’s given, which leads into “Goin’ where the gulf breeze blows, no string of gold around your finger” and seems to allude to the time when Felker split with his wife, and split for the Texas coast to work on a cattle ranch to clear his head.

This underscores that when it comes to Evan Felker, he’s all hat, and all cattle. Singing about brass rings through the nose and hard tempered steel biting at ankles speaks to how Felker takes the life he lives, and puts those details into song. We won’t recount all of the salacious details of how Evan ultimately found himself needing to convalesce through hard work in the mean old sun, but as we suspected, it inspired some good music.

Not far off from “Gin, Smoke, Lies” in approach and attitude, you can see “Mean Old Sun” becoming a live standard for the Turnpike Troubadours in the coming years. Along with Hank Early’s banjo, a Kyle Nix fiddle solo and Ryan Engleman’s guitar help fill out the 4 minute song. But it’s just the very first taste of new music from the band, and will be better regarded when it’s synced in beside it’s peers in the track list, and given time to simmer in our brains.

…because if we’ve learned anything about songs from the Turnpike Troubadours over the years, it’s that they only get better with time. But this one is pretty damn good from the start.

8.5/10

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Cat in the Rain is out August 25th. It’s now available for pre-save.

(Lyrics below)

Empty promises I’ve given
Hollow heartbeats in my chest
And every word of sterling silver
Stirred butterflies beneath your breast

Still untouched by ties a-binding
Goin’ where the gulf breeze blows
No string of gold around your finger
No ring of brass run through my nose

[Chorus]
Headlong for the wall now honey
Still coming up like a rose
Dead still in the garden
Waiting for the reveille
And the dawn is yet to dry the dew from off my Sunday clothes
That mean old sun better rise up soon if its ever gonna set on me

Hear the song she sang in darkness
Tearful, fair, and free and fine
You’re the one she softly whispers
My canary in the mine

[Chorus]
Headlong for the wall now honey
Still coming up like a rose
Dead still in the garden
Waiting for the reveille
And the dawn is yet to dry the dew from off my Sunday clothes
That mean old sun better rise up soon if its ever gonna set on me

I met a man, pale gray with wisdom
Showed me faith will come collect
Hard tempered steel bites at my ankles
Soft cotton rove burns at my neck

[Chorus]
Headlong for the wall now honey
Still coming up like a rose
Dead still in the garden
Waiting for the reveille
And the dawn is yet to dry the dew from off my Sunday clothes
That mean old sun better rise up soon if its ever gonna set on me
That mean old sun better rise up soon if its ever gonna set on me

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