Normally if I hear people having a conversation about progressive bluegrass bands I have to fight the simmering, impulsive, almost uncontrollable urge to admonish hippies because a. I hate hippies and b. there’s a good chance the people talking about it are hippies and hippies should just be quiet. I’m not sure why granola lovers love bluegrass-ish jams so much, maybe it’s because the music is chill (man), or maybe it’s because when most of these bands perform live (Phish, String Cheese Incident, moe, Widespread Panic, etc) they go on nonsensical 25 minute wank fests that gives hippies time to score more acid and have full blown conversations with trees about how they haven’t showered in weeks and exactly how much their retro VW bug van rules. Trampled by Turtles are often lumped in with those aforementioned dignitaries primarily because they play the same summer festivals where high school drop-outs converge to feel welcome in their own little special society, still talk about how much they hate Bush, and release an unimaginable, recalcitrant stench that is 75% worse for the ozone than all of the greenhouses gasses the evil corporations they so hate produce in 5 years.
In other words, I’m not a huge fan of the genre. For some reason that has always deeply troubled me, I love Trampled by Turtles. Maybe it’s because most of the songs on their studio albums are under 4 minutes, maybe it’s because their music actually has a point, a hook, and their jams are written extremely well, or maybe it’s because they are from Minnesota (I like every artist from Minnesota 25% more than I objectively should cause Minnesota), but whenever I hear them I have this insane duality going on in my brain. I want to hate them so badly I can taste it, but I find myself singing along with the type of hippies I mentioned above (any time Trampled By Turtles is playing, a hippie will be within 50 yards). From a discography perspective, their albums follow a similar formula (catchy back porch bluegrass jams usually talking about women, whiskey, or nostalgia), but their peak was reached on their debut, “Songs From a Ghost Town.”
“Songs From a Ghost Town” is a short, sweet, 34 minute bluegrass ride that kind of sounds like the “O Brother Where Art Thou” soundtrack if the artists weren’t trying to make music that sounded like it was written in 1939. There’s nary an electric guitar to be found, the singer sounds like he was ripped straight out of sweet home Ala-bam, and there’s more banjos going around then you would see at a family reunion for the backwoods sister-rammers in “Deliverance.” Only one track “The Outskirts” threatens to enter hippie wank territory, the remainder is comprised of songs that make you feel like you’re walking around the sets for “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” It has that downhome southern comfort feel, and is perhaps most astutely represented by breezy jams like the sincere “Whiskey,” and the nostalgic “One Way Street.” The majority of “Songs From a Ghost Town” holds up well, but its greatest redeemable factor is the presence of “At Your Window,” which is arguably one of the top 10 bluegrass songs ever written.
“At Your Window” is the one that drew me in, and it’s the one that I want to hate the most because it’s level of sappiness is almost unmatched, yet its catchy, pleading laments are absolutely irresistible. It might actually be the reason I like Trampled the way I do, and there’s a very good chance it has kept me from going Cartman and building a hippie-destroying super drill and playing Slayer onstage at those festivals I would never be caught dead in. I hate myself every time I jam Trampled by Turtles, and “Songs From a Ghost Town” will be a permanent reminder that all is not what it seems, at least when it comes to music.