Turnpike Troubadours

11:11 Presents

Turnpike Troubadours

Jason Boland & the Stragglers, American Aquarium

Wed, August 10, 2016

Doors: 5:00 pm / Show: 6:00 pm

Zoo Montana

Billings, MT

$28

This event is all ages

Turnpike Troubadours
Turnpike Troubadours
TURNPIKE TROUBADOURS
A Long Way from Your Heart
Roughly 3,300 people live in Okemah, Oklahoma, a town with vintage redbrick storefronts, a dive bar called the Rocky Road Tavern, a name that means “things up high” in Kickapoo, and a strange track record of birthing great American songwriters: Woody Guthrie is from Okemah. Grammy-nominee John Fullbright is, too. Evan Felker belongs on that list.
“I was born in Okemah but was raised in Wright City, a town in southeastern Oklahoma,” Felker says. “Now I live in Okemah again. The characters I write about are living in that world I grew up in––a bucolic, dirt-underneath-your-fingernails sort of world. People where I grew up are tough. It’s nice to be able to represent them in art.”
Felker is the frontman, cofounder, and primary songwriter for Turnpike Troubadours, a virtuosic band of country-rock road dogs who, on any given night of the week, will play for a much bigger crowd than the populations of Okemah and Wright City combined. Singer/guitarist Felker, fiddler Kyle Nix, steel and electric guitarist Ryan Engleman, bassist RC Edwards, drummer Gabe Pearson, and steel and accordion player Hank Early deliver punch after punch of smart rock-and-roll that sells out huge venues throughout the Midwest and South and packs legendary haunts like the Troubadour in Los Angeles.
With their highly anticipated fourth album A Long Way from Your Heart, the sextet is poised for even bigger breakthroughs. Narratives put to music are nothing new, but Felker and his bandmates have upped the ante, creating a web of unforgettable characters that show up on album after album in songs that are both catchy and musically complex: men and women with their backs against their wall, represented realistically but also imbued with dignity. “It feels like going home to see that those characters are still alive in a way that movies and literary writers have always done,” Felker says of the recurring favorites. “It feels good. There they are, all based on people that I know and love. They’re composite characters based on real people.”
A Long Way from Your Heart was produced by Grammy winner Ryan Hewitt (The Avett Brothers, Flogging Molly, Red Hot Chili Peppers). The result is a rare triumph––an album that hooks immediately but then rewards listeners willing to dig deeper. “I love what we as a band have turned into and how we treat songs,” Felker says. “That’s something we’ve grown into––adding some sort of oddly theatrical element to the musicianship to help the story along, to sum up where or who the character is to give him a little bit of landscape. It’s not just an acoustic guitar and a guy telling you what somebody’s doing.”
The band’s impressive musicianship is multifaceted: fun with time signatures via lapses into double or half time; clean, abrupt stops; stealthy fingerpicking; unassailable grooves. Felker’s warm vocals invite both closer listening and dancing––a tricky mix that he exudes naturally. Unconventional mash-ups work for Felker, who shrugs off attempts to label what
he does. “I find art in a lot of places,” he says. “I find things that aren’t considered art in a lot of people’s views of the world artful.”
A Long Way from Your Heart kicks off with a fine example of art in the unexpected. Based on the experience of folks Felker knew back home, “The Housefire” captures the devastation and hope that follows losing just about everything. Cushioned by Irish-inspired strings, the narrator’s gentleness as he loses all he’s built stands tallest. Rolling singalong “Something to Hold On To” begs for one last chance, while the sweetly sad “Old Time Feeling (Like Before)”––which Felker co-wrote with Edwards and friend Jonny Burke––fights falling back into old patterns over a lush chorus of strings led by winsome dobro.
Album standout “Pay No Rent” is an ode to Felker’s aunt Lou, who lived and owned a beloved local bar in Okemah, the Rocky Road Tavern. “She was about the only person I could go drinking with at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday,” Felker says, then laughs. “We got to be really good friends. We’d hang out a lot, fish together, cook together, drink tequila, and build a big-ass fire at her place out on Buckeye Creek. She loved that song ‘Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.’ She said, ‘If I ever die––I hope I never do, but if I do––you gotta play ‘Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain’ at my funeral.’” Lou passed away last year, and when Felker got the news, he called good friend John Fullbright, and the two got to work learning the song. Then, the day before the funeral, the two realized Lou had asked about five other people to sing “Blue Eyes,” too. “So between noon and three in the morning, we wrote ‘Pay No Rent’ for her instead and played that,” Felker explains, laughing again. Based on an old Irish saying, the song is a gorgeous tribute.
Felker’s favorite album track, “Unrung” is a winning amble through warnings, praise, and a tinge of jealousy, all written about a good friend. “A Tornado Warning”––Felker’s other favorite––is a love song brimming with detail. Frenetic story song “The Winding Star Mountain Blues” traces the strained friendship between a stand-up guy and his wayward childhood friend to immortalize a different kind of heartbreak. Electric shuffler “The Hard Way” is a wry send-up of trying to relive youth when it’s a little too late.
Featuring nimble piano and Haggard-worthy jazz guitar licks, album closer “Sunday Morning Paper” is a nugget of hero-worshipping wit. Felker was inspired to write the song by his uncle, Ervin Felker. “He gave me my first guitar. He played in bands and was a Marine–– he’s the guy from ‘Blue Star,’” Felker says, referencing a track from the band’s 2012 release Goodbye Normal Street. Felker took the first line from one of his uncle’s songs then penned the rest to create a celebration of the giants of 70s country-rock––the elder Felker included.
The album’s sharply drawn characters and the range of challenges they face creates a tapestry that’s compelling and ultimately, inspiring. “This whole record is about resilience in the face of tragedy––tragedies of different sizes,” Felker says. “Just getting your nose down and dealing with it.”
Jason Boland & the Stragglers
Jason Boland & the Stragglers
Jason Boland – Vocals, Guitar
Cody Angel – Guitar, Pedal Steel, Resophonic Guitar
Brad Rice – Drums, Vocals
Grant Tracy – Bass
Nick Worley – Fiddle, Mandolin, Vocals

Jason Boland and the Stragglers
Squelch

Music is having a moment. Listeners are crying out for something true––some meaty songs that’ll give us some comfort, even as they cut closer to the bone.

Everyone is finally ready for the gritty, thundering country Jason Boland and the Stragglers have sharpened over almost 20 years’ worth of selling out roomy venues and commanding stages across the nation. And new album Squelch provides the ideal vehicle.

“We’re just trying to make something that we're proud of,” lead songwriter and vocalist Boland says. “If any more people want to take notice of it, they’re welcome.”

Since coming together in Stillwater, Oklahoma, Boland and his tightknit crew have sold more than half a million albums independently and earned a devoted following that’s swelled far beyond the band’s red dirt roots. At a Stragglers show, oil patch roughnecks, hippies, college kids, and intelligentsia all sway side-by-side like a traveling reincarnation of Austin’s Armadillo World Headquarters in its cosmic cowboy, Willie Nelson heyday.

While the Stragglers draw from rock and folk, make no mistake: they traffic in unfiltered, unfettered honky-tonk, raw and lean. Equal parts subtle, meditative, and snarling, and often wickedly funny, Squelch is a deeply rooted exercise in exhuming beauty by trading smoke and mirrors for what’s real.

“We pay homage, but we don't want to copy or be a throwback act,” Boland says. “All you can do is try to take the music that inspires you and take it further. And make it personal.” If he has felt any pressure to make his “personal” what others have in mind, it doesn’t show. Boland has never constructed an identity or sound for mass or even niche consumption. He is who he is, and he’s all in.

Recorded at Orb Recording Studios in Austin and mixed at Sonic Ranch in El Paso, Squelch was produced by Jim Ward (At the Drive-In, Sparta, Sleepercar) and marks the band’s eighth time in the studio. Like two previous Stragglers’ albums, debut Pearl Snaps and 2013’s critically acclaimed Dark and Dirty Mile, Squelch was recorded and mixed directly to tape. “It's one thing when you can say, ‘Okay, now, engineer, you do your magic,’” Boland says. “There is no magic when you record and mix to tape. It is what it is. I think it’s a fuller, richer sound. And it’s just more honest.”

Opener “Break 19” thumps brazenly, reveling in bassist Grant Tracy’s heart-pounding walks and punctuated by Nick Worley’s whirling fiddle, Brad Rice’s locomotive drumming, and newest Straggler Cody Angel’s achy pedal steel. There’s not a throwaway line to be found, as Boland’s deep baritone rumbles through a sly takedown of modern media and absolute certainty after copping to trying it all the wrong way first and realizing “the more I see, the less I claim to know.” It’s a fitting introduction to The Stragglers’ signature blend of social consciousness, self-awareness, and swing.

“I Guess It’s Alright” is classic Boland wordplay layered over a breakneck shot of adrenaline. A rollicking sendup of society’s uneven tolerance for bad behavior, the track roars that for those with power, life is open season and consequences are nil. “I guess it’s alright to be an asshole if you’re good,” he pounds over growling guitar. “Fat and Merry” bristles with snark, taking aim at quintessentially American hustle, from suburban flight and gentrification, to waste and nonstop consumption. It’s got to be the only song ever to bemoan “coffee shops and escalades where escalades and cocaine could be found” with a world-weary fiddle echo. “Nobody wants to come off as judgmental, but you have to make judgments,” Boland says. “With your tongue in your cheek is a nice way to do it. None of us are above reproach. We’re all just having a good day or a bad day, same as everybody else.”

“First to Know” is a love song for adults. “If my voice sounds scared and frozen, it’s because I’m afraid and cold / And when I am you’ll always be the first to know,” Boland sings, both as an ode to the one who knows him best and a plea for understanding. It’s also a reminder that sometimes, what you see really is what you get, and while that may occasionally disappoint, ultimately, it’s cause for trust and hope.

Aversion to artifice permeates Squelch in just about every way, from the recording process to the album’s themes to Boland himself. “Lose Early” is a sauntering rendition of dust to dust and a skewering of the lie that you have to sell your soul to eat, while “Do You Love Me Any Less” questions whether or not absence hinders affection. Written by original Stragglers fiddler Dana Hazzard, haunting and heartbreaking “Christmas in Huntsville” is the only track Boland didn’t pen. Images of Christmas at home flood the imprisoned narrator’s mind as he heads to his holiday-timed execution for a murder he didn’t commit. Closer “Fuck, Fight, and Rodeo” kicks out the footlights in a two-minute, hell-in-a-hand-basket hoedown.

Asked why he feels so compelled to focus on lost causes and society’s ills, Boland explains, “Because we’ve talked about the rest of it. It’s almost out of obligation––and it’s an obligation that’s more intense because of the fact that nobody else is talking about it––some rock, rap, Americana, and folk does. But nobody is doing it the way we do it.”

Boland just exited his 30s, but he seems older, based on his experiences. He’s lived through alcoholism, a should-have-killed-him car crash, a ruptured vocal chord, and other trials. He wears his hard-won wisdom easily, without ceremony or conceit, and has evolved naturally as a writer, becoming more and more comfortable with his knack for recognizing the universally significant––even divine––in the ordinary. “Holy Relic Sale” is a stunning example, and one of the songs that makes Boland most proud. “My wife’s got a pair of lucky blue socks,” he says. “One day, we just had an awesome day––everything went right. We got home, and she pulled the socks out of the dresser and said, ‘I thought I had these on all day.’ It’s the classic story of ‘it’s not the things.’ The things are there to remind you to concentrate on the positive facts of life. The little relics that we have are going to wear out or get lost, but the light and the energy are within you.”

On stage, Boland leads a raucous party. Off stage, he’s mellow and warm, often wryly philosophical. But no matter where he is, he’s always grateful. “You play the dimly lit honky tonks of the world and take the music to the people, several at a time,” he says. “Some shows are huge, some shows aren't. You take the good and the bad and you go down the road. And you think, ‘Isn't that what everybody's going for?’ Well no, it's not. But that's what we look back on and always smile about––the shaky ground that we've always been on. The uncertainty of it all.”
Venue Information:
Zoo Montana
2100 South Shiloh Rd.
Billings, MT, 59106
http://www.ZooMontana.org