New Music: Trampled by Turtles — Alpenglow

If you’re reading this review after seeing anything else on this blog, you’re probably wondering why I’m doing a review of a bluegrass-folk album amongst a sea of emo and alternative music. You’d probably also be surprised to know that this band is easily in my top five most listened to on a regular basis.

The thing about Trampled by Turtles is that, despite being assuredly bluegrass-influenced, the band finds a way to put out music that grabs ahold of you emotionally and refuses to let go, no matter what your musical preferences are.

Alpenglow, the band’s tenth album in their nearly 20 years as a band, was produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and, as a result, might have the most mainstream appeal out of all of their albums, but does so without losing too much of the band’s signature sound.

As an aside, the album’s name comes from “the optical phenomenon that takes places when the sun casts a reddish glow across the mountains at dawn and dusk,” which really tells you more about the overall sound of the album than you’d expect.

One thing that Trampled does consistently well is assembling a collection of songs that carry you from the first track to the last in a way that feels like a deliberate journey. Even without looking, you can get a sense of where you are in the progression of the album and when the last track, in this case The Party’s Over, ends, it feels like the period at the end of a musical sentence. (Side note: if the closing lines of the song: “Yeah the party’s over / And I’m left here thinking / Of the dogs and the moonlight and you” don’t make you feel something, you might want to make sure you’re still alive.)

Alpenglow is also interesting in the way that it is somehow reminiscent of older Trampled albums. Several songs on the album give off a feeling that they remind you of something that you just can’t quite put your finger on. Others are more obvious in their similarities. Nothing but Blue Skies, perhaps one of the strongest songs from a lyrical perspective, has a vocal melody that immediately reminded me of Bloodshot Eyes off of their 2010 album Palomino. Similarly, the strings during the bridge of Quitting is Rough give a sort of déjà vu to the bridge of Alone, from 2012’s Stars and Satellites.

That’s not to say there’s nothing new here. Both of the songs released in advance of the album — On the Highway and It’s so Hard to Hold On — do an excellent job of showcasing the strengths each of the band’s six members bring to the table and how the band has progressed musically since their last album.

In fact, so many of the songs are excellent that it is hard to choose one that is the stand-out track, and I’m certain this is one of those instances where my favorite will probably change over the next several months of listening.

A top contender for strongest offering, though, is Starting Over. Lyricist Dave Simonett takes what could be a superficial topic that there are literally thousands of songs about and makes it seem almost intellectual and deeply emotional at the same time. There’s also beautiful instrumentation in the song, including a fiddle solo and some really stellar vocal harmonies.

Overall, for long-time fans of the band, Alpenglow might not live up to Palomino or Stars and Satellites but it is welcome new music after a 4-year drought and is certainly worth adding to your folk/bluegrass playlist.

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