Bass player R.C. Edwards has been with the Turnpike Troubadours since its inception, and has has been responsible in some way for the writing for Turnpike standards like “Before the Devil Knows We’re Dead,” “Easton & Main” and “Kansas City Southern.” He co-wrote two songs with frontman Evan Felker on the band’s latest album, “A Long Way From Your Heart.”
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To hear him tell it, the songwriting is the easy part.
“I don’t know if we really have a [songwriting] process,” Edwards told me over the phone last week. “Sometimes it’ll be an idea that you have and you can’t finish so you partner up with it, or other times it just comes pouring out.”
Hearing the results of that process will be possible three ways this weekend. The Turnpike Troubadours are coming to Austin for two ACL Live shows, Dec. 1 and Dec. 2. They’re also taping their first episode of “Austin City Limits” on Dec. 5.
“We pride ourselves on our live show, that’s definitely what we strive for,” Edwards said. “And especially with the new album, as much as fans anticipated it being released, it was like Christmas for us, we just wanted to get to give it to the fans.”
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Those fans responded enthusiastically— “A Long Way” debuted on the Billboard “Top Country Albums” chart at No. 3, selling about 18,000 copies in its first week. That’s the second time one of their albums debuted so big; their last album, 2015’s “The Turnpike Troubadours,” also debuted at No. 3.
That success is due in large part to the aforementioned songwriting, which Edwards plays a part in.
The process sounds simple enough until you listen to a song like “Pipe Bomb Dream,” full of bass lines and idiomatic wordplay, or “Old Time Feeling (Like Before),” which uses Kyle Nix’s fiddle and Hank Early’s steel guitar to accentuate lyrics like “Well I don’t mind you playing me, just keep it in a major key.”
Or take one of Edwards’ solo writing outings from the band’s self-titled album. “Fall Out Of Love” is a gut-wrenching, slow-waltz of a breakup song that’s very specific, but widely accessible.
“I had been through a pretty bad breakup right before I wrote that,” Edwards said. “It’s about myself, but some of the guys in the band thought it was about them or something they’d been through. That, to me is the hallmark of a great song, when everyone feels like it was written just for them.”
Relatable songs about themselves, people they’ve known or some combination of the two have been the Turnpike Troubadours’ calling card since “Bossier City,” their out-of-print debut. The characters who inhabit their songs have full backstories, make the wrong choices and deal with life any way they know how.
“That was Ev’s [Felker’s] deal,” Edwards said. “He came up with the idea of having this universe where all the same characters live, like how William Faulkner, J.D. Salinger, Stephen King have with their books. So all of our characters are in the same world.”
The through-line for all of the characters and songs on “A Long Way From Your Heart” is resilience, in any shape or form. There’s a gambler on the run. A couple who falls in love amid the sirens of a tornado warning. A man lamenting a falling out that he had with a wayward friend.
“It wasn’t like it was a concept album or anything, but eventually it became the common theme, just the resilience of the human condition,” Edwards told me.
The album features the band at the top of their form, and fans will get to hear new cuts as well as a lot of classics if they come to the shows the band is putting on.
“We’ll mix it up, I’m sure. Give the people what they want to hear.”
The Turnpike Trubadours play ACL Live Friday, Dec. 1 and Dec. 2 at 8 p.m. both nights. Tickets can be purchased here. Those who wish to attend the “Austin City Limits” taping can check ACL Live’s website for ticket drawing information. The episode will also be livestreamed here.