This might surprise a few people, especially after the last album by this Duluth, Minnesota-based band stayed on the Billboard bluegrass charts for 52 weeks. Much of it was thanks to an unexpectedly great video for Wait So Long and constantly energetic shows.
So why the change of pace for Trampled By Turtles?
"From the start we knew that we didn’t want to go back to trying to recreate a live show with our new endeavor. We wanted to make a record that breathes. We wanted it to feel and sound warm and more like one piece of work than several pieces put together," says singer/songwriter/guitarist Dave Simonett. “We took our songs, along with engineer Tom Herbers (Jayhawks, Low) and his tape machine, to Soleil Pines, a log home outside of Duluth and within the gravitational pull of Lake Superior."
It was there that they moved the furniture, set up some mics, worked, slept, and ate all in the same space. Musically, they thought this would help them step out of their comfort zone and play on the outside border of it. At least that is how they define this creative endeavor.
On some counts, they are right. The result is a warmer, more cohesive album than the band has done before. Always on the road and always touring since they got together in 2003, they had previously viewed recording an album much like doing another tour — a process rather than something organic.
"This record is all about going inward, building a focused bond as players and friends, and bringing a different mindset to the sounds Trampled By Turtles can make,” said Erik Berry (mandolin/vocals).
Berry, Simonett, Tim Saxhaug (bass, vocals), Dave Carroll (banjo, vocals), and Ryan Young (mandolin) have done just that. Stars And Satellites features 11 tracks filled with candid and nuanced lyrics that seem to carry a theme of loneliness and of missing out on daily life at home while on the road.
The band started work on Stars and Satellites last fall. There very little punk-rock influence. It's decidedly more progressive bluegrass/pop from beginning to end.
The first single off the album (second track), Alone, is a sobering tune delivered with the soaring harmonies that are characteristic of the Trampled By Turtles sound. But it's the third track, Walt Whitman, that deserves attention. The clip captures the band playing it live at KDHX in December.
The song is the strongest track on the album and features an infectious chorus and some dazzling fiddle work. Risk is a frantic instrumental that manages to capture the fire of the band’s live performances, without losing anything in the translation to tape. It also illustrates how the band's arrangements are what set them a part from other bands.
Most tunes on this album are layered and purposeful, albeit slower (mostly) than fans might be used to. As a folk and bluegrass lover, I don't hear a weak track in the bunch. Some folks who fell in love with Palomino might. But the people in the band's hometown of Duluth couldn't be happier.
Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Ryback and Duluth Mayor Don Ness proclaimed April 11 Trampled By Turtles Day in Minnesota (if you can imagine it). In fact, the mayors took it a step further by standing on the stage with the band as the curtain lifted, kicking off their 2012 concert tour.
Ordinarily, mayors and bands don't really mix. But these mayors proved to be an exception. After the kick off, they both dove in for some crowd surfing.
Stars And Satellites By Trampled By Turtles Floats 7.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.
If you’re an audiophile, look for the gatefold LP on heavyweight vinyl because it includes a card for a free digital download of the entire album. The band is currently on a North American tour in support of the album with stops at key places and venues along the way, most notably the Newport Folk Festival in Newport, R.I., on July 29 and the Sasquatch Music Festival in George, Wash., on May 27.
Trampled By Turtles' new album, Stars And Satellites, can be found on iTunes. Barnes & Noble carries the CD and will be adding the LP. You can also find Stars and Satellites on Amazon. Or make plans to see them live at one of the best festivals of the year. Lollapalooza in Chicago is Aug. 3-5 and Trampled By Turtles is already listed in the lineup.