With apologies to all the Nashville A-listers out there, the best country album of the current decade belongs to a relatively unheralded quintet out of Oklahoma called Turnpike Troubadours. The Evan Felker-fronted outfit served up the jaw-droppingly good “Diamonds & Gasoline” in 2010 and the twangy gem remains in heavy rotation on my iPod even five years after the fact. That’s the sign of a truly great record.
The Troubadours (Felker, R.C. Edwards, Kyle Nix, Ryan Engleman and Gabe Pearson) returned in 2012 with the almost-as-good “Goodbye Normal Street” — a bona fide breakthrough that debuted at #14 on the Billboard Country Chart — and they’ve done it again with this delightful new self-titled album that should help raise their profile considerably.
“Human beings like stories,” Felker explains. “It doesn’t matter what form, whether it be a song or a movie or a poem. And they’ve always been drawn to characters. Our songs are real life applied to stories applied back to real life. I might get a plot line from several short stories I’ve read. Then I’ll build fallible characters into the midst of all that. They’re never archetypes. They’re real. It’s all about the character.
There isn’t a misfire to be found on the 12-track, 45-minute platter. In addition to 10 new songs, Turnpike Troubadours revisit a pair of killer cuts from their 2007 “Bossier City” debut in “Easton & Main” and “Bossier City.” Additional keepers include “The Bird Hunters,” “Time of Day,” “Ringing in the Year,” “7 Oaks” and “How Do You Fall.”
Through relentless touring, Turnpike Troubadours have earned a reputation as a first-rate live act. Their current tour, sadly, doesn’t bring them to Western Pennsylvania (they’ll perform across the state in Philadelphia on Nov. 5) but here’s hoping they roll through Pittsburgh in the very near future. (Jeffrey Sisk)