Reviewed by Harry Kaplan
I would like to come up with a new measure to evaluate music. The listenability index. After all, that is what is most important. How good does it sound? Is it something that can be played over and over without repelling the listener? The index goes from one to 100, with 100 being the most listenable, and one being the least. Life Is Good On The Open Road gets a listenability index rating of 100. Yes, you read that right. I have listened to the entire album three times now and I have yet to find a part where I said to myself, “I would have phrased that differently.” I can’t find one flaw. And believe me, I tried. That’s what I do as a critic.
For those not familiar with Trampled By Turtles (TBT), here is the Cliff Note version. They were formed in 2003 in their hometown of Duluth, MN. Their style is folk, bluegrass, country, and rock. That is really not the best description of their music, though. They have fused those genres to create their own unique style. The best way to find out what they are all about is to listen and see them live. Life Is Good On The Open Road is their eight studio album. The lineup consists of: Dave Simonett on guitar, lead vocals, and harmonica; Tim Saxhaug on bass and backing vocals; Dave Carroll on banjo and backing vocals; Erik Berry on mandolin and backing vocals; and, Ryan Young on fiddle and backing vocals.
I you need proof that Trampled By Turtles are able to brilliantly play other styles and incorporate them into the TBT sound, listen no further than Blood In The Water (Track 8). This song is punk rock. No ifs, and or buts. They play fast as lightning and with the precision of a diamond cutter. The frenetic energy on this song is palpable. How they can all sing perfectly while still playing at 7,000 RPMs is beyond me. I don’t have the brain power to fully comprehend what I am listening to.
If you are looking for one song on this collection to give a complete an honest representation of TBT, I would have to say that song is The Middle (Track 3). This song drips beauty from every note. Even the pauses ooze beauty. Complete ear candy. The music and vocals are so effin great that it would be easy to overlook the lyrics, but don’t make the same initial mistake I did. The lyrics are absolutely brilliant. On this song and all of the other TBT songs as well.
It is easy to forget about the lyrics because the instruments are so dynamic. Don’t fall down that rabbit hole. Pay attention to the lyrics. Your diligence will be rewarded. The playing is also very uplifting. But don’t get fooled by the playing. Some of the songs on this collection are introspective and downright sad. There is definitely irony in the upbeat nature of the music versus the lyrical content.
Songs like We All get Lonely (Track 2), Life Is Good On The Open Road (Track 7), and I Went To Hollywood (Track 9) really tap into feelings of depression, loneliness, and isolation. Pretty heavy stuff. The instrumentation definitely helps to temper the somber mood. Otherwise, I would tell everyone to invest in Kimberly Clark (They make Kleenex). The saddest song on this entire collection for me is I’m Not There Anymore (Track 10). This is a breakup song that comes as close to capturing that raw emotion as any song I have ever heard about the subject.
Please don’t get TBT confused with DBT (Drive By Truckers). It would be an easy mistake to make. I would also say that fans of TBT would also be fans of DBT. Regardless. TBT has the musical chops and catalog to stand on their own. As previously mentioned, this is their eighth album and could be their strongest yet. This one certainly deserves some serious attention.