Release Date: Apr 10, 2012
Record label: BanjoDad Records
Do bands go on the road so they can play music, or do they play music so they can go on the road? Especially at a time when touring has greater financial potential than releasing albums, there’s something still powerful and romantic about piling everybody in a cramped van and driving long stretches between half-crowded shows. It’s the modern-day equivalent of riding the rails as a Great Depression drifter or going on the road with Kerouac, suggesting a powerful sense of personal freedom and boundless possibilities. Of course there are tradeoffs, which the best bands write into the See America mythos: you sacrifice a stable home life, subject every relationship to distance and distraction and suffer a nebulous rootlessness that can prove just as confining as it does liberating.
Wanting to make an album with a similar sound and spirit to a musician’s experience on the road, Trampled by Turtles traveled all over while making their last record Palomino. They recorded songs in a Minneapolis warehouse, in studios all across Minnesota, a hotel room in D.C., and lead singer Dave Simmonet’s basement. When they set out to make their latest record, they knew they wanted to create an album that sounded more like a solid piece of work.
Stars and Satellites, the sixth studio album from Duluth, Minnesota-based indie folk outfit Trampled by Turtles, is imbued with the kind of reserved blue-collar authenticity that stems from dollar draft specials, chapped faces, and countless icy van rides home from gigs. Like their Michigan counterparts Frontier Ruckus, Trampled by Turtles use the rich traditions of country, folk, and bluegrass as a foundation to explore modern problems, both big and small. Whether it's windswept balladry ("Midnight on the Interstate," "The Calm and the Crying Wind") or furious picking ("Risk," "Walt Whitman"), Stars and Satellites manages to find that elusive balance between workmanlike precision and 3:00 a.m.
Are Trampled By Turtles showing signs of age? Or are they simply making the executive decision to pace themselves? Whatever the reason, it’s a welcome change to the world of this Minnesota-based outfit to find them tempering the blistering speed of their stomping bluegrass on their sixth full-length. Don’t get too nervous, TBT fans; there are still enough speedy tempos and glorious banjo/mandolin picking to go around here (the instrumental “Risk” is a particular delight). But the rest of Stars and Satellites is given over to meditative songs that open up petal by petal, revealing a soft heart within.
Duluth, Minnesota's Trampled by Turtles have slowly risen to prominence on the back of their live show, which showcases their impressive chops as they attack traditional roots and bluegrass sounds with the speed dial turned up to 11. Those drawn in by the band's display of lightning-quick musicianship might feel let down by Stars And Satellites, their latest release for Toronto's Six Shooter. Rather than speed-folk, the album largely features slow-burning, harmony-laden ballads.
It's been less than a year since this Minnesota sextet made their Canadian debut with Palomino. This is an even stronger effort, one that avoids the sometimes-frantic pace that marred that earlier album a little. Chief songwriter Dave Simonett has an expressive yet understated vocal style that suits such elegiac ballads as "High Water," "Beautiful" and "Widower's Heart." To keep things from getting too sombre, Trampled By Turtles mix in spirited bluegrass instrumentals "Risk" (written by banjo player Dave Carroll) and "Don't Look Down" (by mandolinist Erik Berry).
On 2010's Palomino, Trampled by Turtles was nearly breathless. A punk and bluegrass mix, the Duluth, Minn., quintet's acoustic thrash established it as a must-see live act. Stars and Satellites possesses moments when the band seems to be in overdrive, but overall it's much more introspective. A current touchstone would be the Avett Brothers, another act known for its raucous moments that moved toward singer-songwriter fare.