Trampled by Turtles
Seemingly every review and article about Minnesota’s Trampled by Turtles attempts to explain how they bridge the divide between rock and roots, crafting music laden with their punk sensibilities but delivered with a bluegrass lean. All of that is true, but limits who Trampled by Turtles really is and what they do as a band and misses the point of their music. Whether they are a rock band with a string-band lineup or a bluegrass band with rock tendencies, Trampled by Turtles is progressing the future of both bluegrass and rock forward. They prove you do not have to fit neatly into either box and we should never hope they do. They are and continue to be so much more than that.
Early in their career they carved out a place for themselves as a high-octane, thrash, bluegrass band with tunes like, “Burn For Free,” and “Wait So Long,” that lived their life in the fast lane with the gas-pedal mashed to the floor. But it was in their thoughtful moments that the band’s true genius was revealed and created the path that Trampled by Turtles would come to follow.
Trampled by Turtles have long defied convention, existing and performing as a rock band, yet relying on a string-band set up, finding power and strength, not from overwhelming volume, crushing guitars, and a steady back beat, but instead from measured strums, thoughtful arrangements, and contemplative melodies. Alpenglow,the band’s tenth album, does all of that and finds the progressive bluegrass band crafting what is possibly their strongest album to date.
Produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, there is a contemplative maturity to Alpenglow. Trampled by Turtles has at times dived into a deeply thoughtful realm, but often balanced it with their forays into the high-octane thrash that was more prevalent on their early albums. On Alpenglow it is the contemplative that dominates, and it is a welcome change. There is nothing wrong with Trampled by Turtles’ hard, fast, almost punklike, approach to bluegrass, but it is their growth as songwriters that makes Alpenglow worth the price of admission. This growth is best reflected in the meditative reflection of, “All the Good Times Are Gone,” with its old-time banjo rolls and the eeriness of Eamon McLain’s pulsating cello on “Quitting is Rough.” The somber mood of the album is also influenced by what mandolinist Erik Berry refers to as producer, “Tweedy’s love of a minor chord and blues-informed perspective.” Standout track, “On the Highway,” with its road weary take on life best showcases the delicate balance that Trampled by Turtles has long found in their music, heartfelt, emotive lyrics that questions the life around us and the dynamic tension found in the push and pull of band’s use of string-band, rock music arrangements.
The balance and tension in the band’s music was rediscovered and reshaped during the forced hiatus and time apart brought on by the 2020 COVID pandemic. It was a time that lead-singer/ guitarist Dave Simonett says forced a reevaluation of his life, his music, and what was next for Trampled by Turtles. “I ended up finding out that I really enjoyed what I do,” says Simonett. “It was good for me to think about that and really appreciate it. So, once we were back, it felt like a second go, and I think a lot of these songs came from that little feeling of renewal.”