Dear Greg and our (millions of) loyal readers, why is it that no one felt the need to tell me about Trampled By Turtles? Seriously, I realize that it’s mostly my own fault for assuming Trampled By Turtles was dance/hard rock/metal/whatever else kind of band that I typically don’t like. But seriously, Trampled By Turtles? What kind of name is that for a folk band? Well, turns out it’s an awesome name for an awesome band and I should be a little more open minded about the bands I choose based on their names.
This Duluth, MN based quintet has been making music since 2003, when they stumbled upon a winning formula and their casual side project, that was Trampled By Turtles, turned into a full-time gig. This is their 6th studio album, but we’re all pretty new at this, so give us a break. When you first start listening to “Stars and Satellites” be prepared to be surprised by the quality of the music and how the rock aspects tend to often soften the twangy bluegrass nature of the music. With guitar, bass, fiddle, mandolin, and banjo, it’s difficult to get a whole lot more bluegrass than Trampled By Turtles, but they’re much closer to a mix of Fleet Foxes and Pert Near Sandstone, not quite as harmonic as the former and not quite as traditional as the latter.
The first song on the album, “Midnight on the Interstate”, is a slow, melodic tune that does a surprisingly great job of capturing what it’s like driving late on the open road. Some fiddle accents and some great harmonies make the background banjo really stand out and show that this band is creating great, layered song that overflow with storytelling and charm. “Alone” (our second album in a row with a song of that name) is a song that slowly builds on the opening line of “we come into the world, alone” and ends with a juxtaposed 5 part harmony that shows that we aren’t alone.
The closest you’ll get to true bluegrass is the fast paced and very traditional “Walt Whitman”, a song about being on one’s own. This song reminds me of Pert Near Sandstone a lot, another Minnesota band, and that’s a good thing. If you’re a fan of traditional bluegrass, start with “Walt Whitman” and you won’t be sorry. “Risk” and “Don’t Look Down” are other up tempo bluegrass songs, ones that forgo lyrics and instead bless you with awesome instrumental parts from each of the various instruments.
“High Water”, “Widower’s Heart”, and “The Keys to Paradise” are all more melodic songs with the focus on beautiful background instrumentations and harmonic storytelling. “The Calm and The Crying Wind” is a really cool way to end an album like this, one that sounds like they set up a microphone in the neighborhood bar and let anyone with an instrument sing and play on an old tune that everyone knows. When all the members join in on the chorus, it sounds like a party.
The Calm and The Crying Wind (music starts about a minute in):
Trampled By Turtles, while not the unheralded band that we usually focus, deserves your attention, especially if you’re like me and you judged the book by it’s name. “Stars and Satellites” is an incredible album, one that can please bluegrass fans and non bluegrass fans alike and one that’s sure to just be another notch in their fantastic musical belts.