Album of the Week: Trampled by Turtles, 'Life is Good on the Open Road'

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Trampled By Turtles, 'Life Is Good On The Open Road'
Trampled By Turtles, 'Life Is Good On The Open Road' (Banjodad Records)
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Andrea Swensson - Album of the Week: Trampled by Turtles, 'Life is Good on the Open Road'
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When Trampled by Turtles announced that they would be taking a hiatus in the fall of 2016, many were wondering if we'd ever get another album from the beloved Duluth string band. They had spent the past 15 years touring relentlessly, quickly rising from the local scene to play major festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza and appear on The Late Show with David Letterman, but its members seemed content to part quietly and focus their attention on other projects. Had the band simply run its course?

The answer, much to the delight of their followers across the country, is definitely no. After spending a year apart, the band is back in full swing with the beautifully recorded Life is Good on the Open Road, a record that bassist Tim Saxhaug says is "the most Trampled by Turtles record we've ever made."

Watch Trampled by Turtles perform live at The Palace Theatre, Saturday, May 5 at 10 p.m. CDT.

Recorded at Pachyderm Studio in Cannon Falls, the album is more direct and forward-charging than 2014's experimental Wild Animals, which found the group wandering into wide-open spaces in search of a new sound. On Life is Good on the Open Road, you can practically feel how eager the six players in Trampled by Turtles were to resume recording and touring again; as a group they've rarely sounded so nimble, switching from barn-burners to lush ballads and back again, and lead singer Dave Simonett's lyrics have only gotten sharper in the time since he's last written for the group.

Lyrically, some of the themes on Simonett's 2017 Dead Man Winter album, Furnace, resurface on the new album, with fleeting references to leaving a long-term relationship behind and figuring new ways to go it alone. But whereas Furnace examined the fallout of a divorce with a telephoto lens, Life is Good on the Open Road zooms out to consider the bigger picture, touching on themes like ennui, resilience, and creative renewal. "I've been moving logs just to keep the fire burning / My voice is gone but the band wants to play," Simonett sings on "Right Back Where We Started," seeming to thank his old bandmates for getting him back in the game.

As the band sings and collectively sighs on the album's meditative title track, "The light inside you comes and goes, But it never really goes out."

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