With the combined successes of Country’s new traditionalists and the recent Southern Rock contingent that twangs a little harder than its ’70s predecessors, it’s a bit surprising that more bands haven’t tried to channel those two ideas into an unbeatable singularity. Oklahoma’s Turnpike Troubadours aren’t the least bit surprised, since they’ve been working that corner for nearly 10 years and have had more than a little success. The quintet’s 2015 self-titled album climbed to the No. 3 spot on Billboard’s Country chart and hit No. 17 on the overall albums chart.
The Troubadours are associated with the Red Dirt movement out of Stillwater, Okla., a regionalized genre championed by late singer/songwriter Bob Childers. The Troubadours coalesced 35 years later, synthesizing a number of like-minded musical styles, including the Folk of native son Woody Guthrie, the Bluegrass passion of Dock Boggs and Doc Watson and the Roots Rock/Americana energy of any number of similarly steered provocateurs (Drive-By Truckers, Tom Petty and John Mellencamp come to mind).
The Troubadours craft an identifiable sound, but the heart of the band’s soundtrack comes from the emotionally invested and character-driven songs of vocalist/guitarist Evan Felker, who possesses a gift for upending the hoariest Country clichés and delivering age-old lyrical messages with a fresh 21st-century dash of now. While only Felker and bassist R.C. Edwards remain from the band’s original lineup, the current group has become a stellar studio unit and a formidable live entity, translating the songs from the Troubadours’ four albums into foot-stomping, rafter-dusting anthems of everyday life, written with a cinematic perspective and a novelistic attention to detail.