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Updated: 7:44 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013 | Posted: 7:44 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013

Roots & Boots: Turnpike Troubadours elevate Red Dirt sound



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Roots & Boots: Turnpike Troubadours elevate Red Dirt sound photo
Missy Whitfield
Oklahoma band the Turnpike Troubadours, from left, Evan Felker, Ryan Engleman, Gabe Pearson, Kyle Nix and RC Edwards, play Thursday at Wild West in Cedar Park.

By Michael Corcoran

Their Cajun-laced 2007 debut “Bossier City” made some folks think they were from Louisiana, and the followup “Gasoline and Diamonds” suggested the band was from Texas when it won the Lone Star Music Award as the best album of 2010. But Turnpike Troubadours, who have elevated the term “Red Dirt” like no one before them, could have come only from burgs in Oklahoma with names that rhyme with “squaw.” An unmistakable spirit of Woody Guthrie ties together such bigtime small-town songs as “Whole Damn Town” and “Long Hot Summer Day” from “Gasoline and Diamonds” and “Gin, Smoke, Lies” from the latest LP “Goodbye Normal Street.”

The way they mix Oklahoma and Texas and Louisiana they could be called the Tri-State Troubadours, but they take their name from the Indian Nation Turnpike that connects so many of the smaller towns that serve as settings for the songs of frontman Evan Felker. Bassist RC Edwards, fiddle player Kyle Nix, guitarist Ryan Engleman and drummer Gabe Pearson are a tight band, but, although his lyrics are sometimes clichéd, Felker’s vocals make TpT special.

Although they appeal mostly to fresh-faced kids who maintain a B average so Daddy doesn’t take the truck away, the Turnpikers ride hungry and adventurous on songs that mix harmony and humanity. The music’s always on the move. like the group, which plays a show Thursday at Wild West in Cedar Park (401 E. Whitestone). Tickets are $15 at the door. Although the 11,000-square foot Wild West is mainly a country disco, live original music is featured Thursday nights, with Kyle Park (Feb. 7), Bart Crow (14), Curtis Grimes (21) and Jason Boland (28) coming in February.

Based in Tahlequah, Okla., in the foothills of the Ozarks where the classic book “Where the Red Fern Grows” took place, Turnpike Troubadours give their home town a new claim to fame. It’s where the Red Dirt grows.

Another Okie making noise…

Blake Shelton was right when he griped about country music purists. But CMP spokesman Dale Watson has gotten another topical song that goes big with those people who think country radio is no good because Lefty Frizzell, Loretta Lynn and Johnny Cash aren’t being played every hour. Is there another genre of music that is more a battleground between traditional and new? Are the blues purists all up in arms because Gary Clark Jr. sings pop and makes his guitar scratch like a hip hop DJ? A caller we’ll never hear: “Hey, man, your station’s called K-Rock, but I haven’t heard a single song by Elvis or Little Richard all day!”

C’mon people, move on. The nature of culture is adapt or disappear. Accept Little Big Town and the Band Perry as a fact of life you don’t have to deal with as long as you stay out of small-town diners and Wal-Mart. You don’t need the radio to tell you what to listen to, especially with Spotify, so play all the Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings and Kitty Wells you want.

Shelton grew up on Garth Brooks and Vince Gill and Reba McEntire and others from his home state of Oklahoma, plus George Strait, the mayor of Heartland, USA. Every country singer under the age of 50 has to thank Mr. Strait who — blasphemy alert! — is as much a pop singer as country singer. When diehard country music fans are citing the authentic stuff they want to hear more of, they aren’t clamoring for “Check Yes or No” or “Ocean Front Property.”

The most ironic thing of all about the hoopla, was when 87-year-old Ray Price, who was vilified by the old guard when he brought lush strings to country in the late ’60s, shot off an angry post after Shelton said to Great American Country: “I don’t care how many of these old farts around Nashville going, ‘My God, that ain’t country!’ Well that’s because you don’t buy records anymore …” Shelton said.

“Check back in 63 years,” Price posted on his Facebook page, “and let us know how your name and your music will be remembered.” Shelton later apologized to Price, but otherwise stood by his statement.

Watson is on tour in Europe and will step into the studio in London on Saturday to lay down “Old Fart” (see a video of the band playing the song in our blog at austin360.com/musicsource).

I Wrote the Song and the Song Won

Sonny “I Fought the Law” Curtis, Ronnie “Brooks and …” Dunn and the late Roger Miller are this year’s inductees into the Texas Heritage Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. March 3 at ACL Live. Dunn and Curtis will perform, along with Jack Ingram, Larry Gatlin and Toby Keith, in honor of the beloved Miller. Also, the late HAAM co-founder Robin Shivers, who greatly supported great songs, will receive the Darrell K Royal Patron Award.

Lone Star Jam comes back to UT

The Lone Star Jam returns May 4 and 5 to the lawn of the LBJ Library at the University of Texas. Announced Monday on KVET were Reckless Kelly, Charlie Robison, Kyle Park, Cory Morrow, Whiskey Myers and Cody Johnson, but more names will come after Rodeo Austin, which suggests that Josh Abbott Band and Kevin Fowler — both playing the rodeo — will also be playing.

CD neighborhood …

The Reivers, Austin’s indie rock darlings of the ‘80s, have released their first album in 22 years. “Second Story” gets its deserved blow-out Saturday at the ND … The always interesting Dustin Welch has “Tijuana Bible” on the way Feb. 12. The LP is the second in a trilogy, following “Whiskey Priest.”… Have I mentioned that I love the self-titled album by the Whiskey Sisters, which hits stores Feb. 19? The vocal harmonies of Teal Collins and Barbara Nesbitt are quite sisterly, and the band cranks like Collins’ woefully underated Mother Truckers.

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