With four self-released albums to their credit and a word-of-mouth reputation that draws legions of diehard fans to their must-see-to-believe live shows, northern roots music hybrid Trampled by Turtles are set to release Palomino, their first album through Thirty Tigers/RED, on April 13th, 2010. With a sound that’s a bracing hybrid of classic American songwriting, bluegrass and folk, this is forceful acoustic music from the land of ice and snow – of dark winters, isolation and numbing cold – delivered at breakneck pace with the fervor of religion.
The five members of what would become Trampled by Turtles formed in 2003 in Duluth, Minnesota, the Great Lakes port town that had spawned slowcore pioneers Low a decade earlier. Down in the “The Cities” (Minneapolis and St. Paul to the rest of the world), such fabled Minnesota brethren as Dylan through to the Jayhawks had raised the bar pretty damn high, songcraft-wise. Within this contained music scene, the future members of TxT did their time in punk and rock and roll bands, brandishing their electricity proudly, before going “organic” with acoustic instruments.
While they never set out to be a “bluegrass” band, the band employs the same time-honored tools of the trade – guitar, acoustic bass, banjo, mandolin and fiddle – as their ‘grass-fed country cousins. But their soul-deep differences in influences, attitude and attack, from their quicksilver, deadly accurate picking to their lonesome, hauntingly spare ballads, make for a very different musical beast indeed.
The result of this pan-genre spot-welding is a sort of North Country & Mid-Western Blue-collar ’grass meets Basement Tapes-era The Band (unplugged!) with a fistful of gunpowder tossed into the wood-burning stove, all of which is permeated by a poignant, seductive desolation that hails from the likes of Townes Van Zandt (a favorite of Simonett’s) on up through current artists such as the Avett Brothers, Blitzen Trapper, Bill Callahan and Justin Vernon.
Crisply produced by TxT lead singer, guitarist and primary songwriter Dave Simonett, Palomino leads off with a pair of plaintive, up-tempo ballads. “Wait So Long” offers gorgeous, high lonesome harmonies by bassist Tim Saxhaug and banjoist Dave Carroll, while “Victory” is a lament about persevering through loneliness and heartbreak, with Simonett singing “all of us lonely … it ain’t a sin; want something better than the shape we’re in …” and urging the listener to carry on, with the words “and the stars they whisper blessings babe, as you walk by.”
TxT accelerates with the neck-snapping certainty on the rhythmic, pedal-to-the-metal showcase “It’s A War” before popping the chute to draw way back again as the band eases into the easy sway and gentle harmonies of “Separate.” “Bloodshot Eyes” slows it down a notch with a spare arrangement and languid tempo, with Simonett’s aching vocal warmed by a simple harmonica line, followed by mandolinist Erik Barry’s compositional contribution to the album, “New Son/Burnt Iron.” “Help You” is a bubbling, sun-dappled mountain stream of a tune, a fast-moving sparkler far removed from modern techno-paralysis, followed by “Feet and Bones,” where someone tosses a match to the thing and they’re off to the races again. “Gasoline” is raw blues gone acoustic, with a dirty vocal sound and a Depression-era feel.
Simonett strikes gold yet again with “New Orleans,” an wistful time-tripper that evokes a dreamy 19th-century reverie. But not for long. With the fare-thee-well track “Again,” the album’s closer, he and the boys deliver a bruised-but-unbowed fireside lament of longing and loss that will stick with you and brings to mind Uncle Tupelo and Jay Farrar’s solo albums. It’s a song that yearns for another chance and begs for another listen, a song that blends the band’s virtuosity with the emotionalism that connects them with their audiences.
Without press or radio support or a national release until now, TxT continue to play to sold-out venues nationwide; with 2010 bringing the band for the first time to SxSW, Stagecoach Fest, High Sierra Fest, Wakarusa, DelFest (Bluegrass legend Del McCourey’s festival) and more. They’re even getting their own star at legendary Minneapolis club First Avenue, where they can regularly sell out two consecutive nights at the 1600-capacity venue. With Palomino, TxT have harnessed their considerable power and are ready to share it with the world.