NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Turnpike Troubadours, “A Cat in the Rain” (Bossier City Records/Thirty Tigers)
When a band steps aside just as it appears to be peaking, it sets itself up for a unique challenge.
That’s what the Turnpike Troubadours did a few years ago, taking a hiatus to deal with personal challenges after their first five albums had turned them from an Oklahoma roadhouse band into a phenomenon.
But the Troubadours are back with “A Cat in the Rain,” their first new album since 2017. And they’ve returned with the kind of ferocity that feels destined to put them right back on that long-term upward trajectory.
The album combines the Troubadours’ signature blend of country and rock — the tight sound built around the plaintive singing and vulnerable lyrics of front-man Evan Felker — with a new message of resilience and gratitude. The fresh material will only endear them to their extremely devoted fans, and it’s compelling enough to introduce a really good band to newcomers.
On “Brought Me,” a Felker composition, he spells out how happy the band is to be back.
“Oh now, still beats steady, this heart I handed you for free/Should you ever need a thing, it won’t be hard to find me/Standing at the ready, with a dance or two still left in me/Wager that it won’t appear that I forgot who brought me.”
The earnestness is palpable. The band’s bass player, R.C. Edwards, says it’s a love song to Felker’s wife. Felker himself describes it as a message to fans who stuck with the band through difficult times, including his own fight for sobriety. It’s probably both.
But stick with them they did. The Troubadours have been touring to sold-out shows, adding dates to meet demand and bonding warmly with concert halls full of people who know every word to every song and sing them right back at the band.
That’s quite an achievement for a group that always conveyed a sense that its default venue should be a country dance hall with beer-soaked, boot-scuffed wood flooring. It’s a tribute to a red-dirt sound that was always too smart, maybe even too heartfelt to fit in neatly with some of the metrics-tested country emerging inauthentically from Nashville.
More than anything, though, it’s a sign that the Troubadours haven’t lost a step in their time away. They’re back with more of the sound that won over all those people in the first place — resilient, weathered by life’s difficulties and, ultimately, still on the rise.
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