Turn it up

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A favorite writer of mine once compared listening to U2's album "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" to visiting his favorite childhood restaurant. I love that analogy because it addresses how nostalgic music often is. Songs can transport you to another time or remind you of long-forgotten experiences.

One of my favorite alternative country bands, Turnpike Troubadours, released a self-titled album last week that had this effect on me. The album -- the band's fourth since 2007 -- is a collection of nine new tracks, two re-recordings of old tracks and a cover of Old 97's song "Doreen." Old 97's is my favorite alternative country band, so I appreciated the cover just by virtue of existing.

Fortunately, it is quite successful in execution. "Doreen" was recorded in 1994, and Turnpike Troubadours somehow modernize it while preserving its essence. The band's new tracks have the same tone; I remarked to my mother that any of those songs could have been a major hit if released in 1996. Still, I told her, the album doesn't seem out of place in today's alternative country scene.

Listening to the album, I felt I had been flown back to the late 1990s when my mother would play the popular country music of the time on her car radio. She'd play the music deafeningly loud and we'd both sing along at a competitive volume. Some of my favorite childhood memories took place in that car.

It was a time before family tragedy struck. It was a time before my teen years when my mother and I began drifting apart. It's a time that reminds me of innocence and closeness and pure bliss. Until I listened to "Turnpike Troubadours" last week, I didn't realize how much that time and that music means to me.

I grew up on that music, notably George Strait, Willie Nelson and Dwight Yoakam. "Turnpike Troubadours" especially reminds me of Strait's music. The chorus of "The Mercury" hearkens back to Strait's mega-hit "Heartland," and "Time of Day" has a quiet earnestness Strait is known for.

Aside from its nostalgic quality, the album is just a really, really good country album. Most people I know agree that modern country music has taken a bit of a nosedive; "bro-country" seems to dominate radio play today. I've heard only a handful of songs in that genre, but I can't help but feel that stereotypes about country living have replaced the themes that were once so complex in country music.

Sure, Strait sang about girls and drinking, but he also recorded songs about family, tragedy and faith. Nelson -- who is my favorite songwriter -- has written some of the most heartbreaking songs I've ever heard. "Sad Songs and Waltzes" and "So Much to Do" come to mind.

The difference between these country legends and popular county musicians today is sincerity and depth. Turnpike Troubadours prove on their new album that they have a special something you can't hear on the radio anymore. The songs are simultaneously old and new, successfully evoking feeling in a way little to no popular country music does today.

If you like traditional country, you will love "Turnpike Troubadours." I can't recommend it enough. It's really not often that a new country album takes you back in time.

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Samantha Jones is a reporter for the Carroll County News. Her email address is CCNNews@cox-internet.com