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Trampled By Turtles

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I first heard Trampled By Turtles roughly two years ago on Louisville station WFPK. The song was "Help You". It caught my attention amidst the roster of indie/alt-country flavors that can sometimes melt together and become indistinguishable.While the music was great, it was the vocals that really got me: direct, cracked around the edges, and not a hint of twang for the style of music. 

 

Shortly thereafter I investigated where the song came from-2010's Palomino, a fully-realized record predominately filled with frenetic barn-burners ( It's a War"), a few of which are instrumental ("Sounds Like a Movie") and as well as more somber cuts, which intrigued me the most ("Bloodshot Eyes"). While most of the songs seemed explorations of love and all of it's hang-ups, I was detecting a real forward-thinking lyricism to others. A novelty, Trampled By Turtles were not. The music betrayed their goofy name.


        Formed in 2003 in Duluth, Minnesota, Trampled By Turtles was formed by singer/guitar player David Simonett from ashes of various rock and speed metal bands. Simonett had his music gear stolen from his vehicle but was left with an acoustic guitar. Perhaps disillusioned with the experience, he formed TBT as a strictly acoustic act and recruited like-minded newcomers: fiddle player Ryan Young, bassist Tim Saxhaug, mandolin player Erik Berry, and Dave Carroll on banjo.

       I would say Trampled are a progressive roots band, encompassing bluegrass, country, and folk. They've been labelled everything from newgrass to jamgrass to thrashgrass. Some of those tags might be accurate descriptions of at least certain sides to their sound, I'm just not into micro-labelling. I think it does a disservice to the band. It cheapens and marginalizes.


       A predisposed liking for this general type of music probably does help in approaching Trampled's music, but it's unfair to compare them to other groups working roughly in the same genre. I can namedrop with the best of 'em, but I wont. If I did have to divulge what makes Trampled unique is it's lack of pretense. I'm sure there's an influence from true roots music pioneers, but they don't try to imitate it. They don't pretend to understand the true anguish of the Stanley Brothers or the Carter Family even if they appreciate it in a more universal sense. You'll find no "hard-life, Depression-era worker" narrative in any of their songs, albeit an occasional cover tune. Yes, they might do a Woodie Guthrie song live, but are just as partial to a Pixies cover as well.

 

    Here's a performance of a song from Trampled's debut album, Songs From a Ghost Town. 

 

 

       I know. A song about whiskey from a roots band. Pretty trite, huh? But I think the song contains a larger vision. It's a song about boredom, loneliness, trapped in a small town, yearning to escape, whether by train or by bottle. That reoccurring line "the starlit evening's come to take me home" feels both hopeful and foreboding. Is home Carolina or beyond the mortal coil? This song gives me chills. Great lyrics, but pretty simple compared to what would eventually come.


     In April of this year, TBT released Stars and Satellites. It's Palomino turned on it's head. A desolate, rural melancholy is at the forefront ("High Water"). The lightning-fast hoedowns are minimized ("Risk"). It feels like they're trying to break into a new realm or have already-but just barely. If they have, I wouldn't say they know how to flawlessly maneuver through it yet. Lyrically, they can be odd, even opaque at times. It's simultaneously fascinating and frustrating. The few ragers can be jolting alongside everything else.Most of Stars and Satellites isn't exactly easy listening. I don't mean it's necessarily depressing.or uninviting. It's something that demands repeat listens. More gets revealed each time. Those kind of records can be the most rewarding in the long run. That's why it's one of my favorites this year, so far.


     A couple of months ago I got to see them play at Waterfront Park in Louisville. It was a free show sponsored by WFPK. As usual it was sort of an eclectic lineup.These United States and the Walkmen played as well but I missed them both. Needless to say, because it was free, the place was packed. Trampled came on around 9pm but, due to a presumable mix of factors-a weekday, park restrictions, noise ordinance-they played for just a wee bit over an hour. It was awesome, but strange. The split  between the mellow/fast numbers was more noticeable than ever.

 

They opened with "Alone" to a massive, already half-drunk crowd, a large portion of who had probably never heard the band but just wanted to party and dance to some bluegrass in it's home state. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Fans can be won. However they seemed indifferent. Then they launched into "Walt Whitman" and people started to respond. They went  back and forth with this for awhile, until more or less retreating into full-on attack mode. These songs sounded even faster live. It was loud too. It was then that I fully understood the thrashgrass tag.


     As great as it was, I really want to see them again in club/theater setting amongst fans. You can do so too. They'll be playing Headliner's Music Hall on Oct. 18th in Louisville and the 19th at the Vogue in Indianapolis.


     Trampled By Turtles have six albums-Songs From a Ghost Town (2004), Blue Sky & the Devil (2005), Trouble (2007), Duluth (2008), Palomino (2010), and Stars & Satellites (2012). Also check out www.archive.org for some great band-approved live downloads. But, please, if you like them, support them. Buy a record, ticket, or t-shirt.


The name is silly, but the music is not. I kind of like that contradiction,

 

All photos taken by Phierce Photography by Keith Griner


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Music review:

  • Performer(s): Trampled By Turtles
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  • Review Writer: Eric Hehe
  • Editor rating: 5*

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