Stars and Satellites: A Unified Masterpiece
Wanting to make an album with a similar sound and spirit to a musician’s experience on the road, Trampled by Turtles traveled all over while making their last record Palomino. They recorded songs in a Minneapolis warehouse, in studios all across Minnesota, a hotel room in D.C., and lead singer Dave Simmonet’s basement. When they set out to make their latest record, they knew they wanted to create an album that sounded more like a solid piece of work. Recorded in Soleil Pines, a log cabin near Lake Superior, Stars and Satellites is that unified masterpiece.
Like the soft, warm flicker of flames in a fireplace, this album will take you in. Laced together with a balanced mix of both steady and fast-paced songs, these songs dress bluegrass up with traces of classic rock, old country, and new folk.
With soft guitars and rising mandolin scales blending against lingering violin whines, the album’s first track feels like that point in a road trip where the other passengers have begun to drift into sleep, leaving the driver alone with the open road. Lead singer and guitarist, Dave Simmonet’s vocals are likened to Scott Avett’s of the Avett Brothers, making “Midnight on the Interstate” as longing and painfully nostalgic as something from The Avett Brothers’ EP sThe Gleam and The Second Gleam.
“The summer breezes blow so tall / and the winter nights are so cold and long”, sings Simmonet in the second verse of “Alone”. The song’s lyrics and instrumentation come together to create a rich pastoral scene where violins become a summer breeze, cellos, a winter freeze, and the pattering mandolin riffs act as the falling leaves of the beautiful autumn season in between. The first part of this song seems to drag a little, but after the second verse, the song breaks into forceful, sawing bows accompanied by descending undercurrents that create a storming sense of tension and urgency (a similar effect as in The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby”).
The album picks with third track, “Walt Whitman”, introducing sharp, rapid violin riffs against Simmonet’s grainy vocals. The song sounds similar to a Glenn Fry and Don Henley harmonization like in The Eagles’ song “Lyin’ Eyes”. Trampled by Turtles dabble in sounds of classic country in both “The Calm and the Crying Wind” and “Keys to Paradise”, subtly referencing The Band.
Trampled by Turtles also weave in a couple of instrumental songs into the album, both rushing with intensity. “Risk” is a blend of tension, sounding like something between a quirky barn dance tune and the passion and thrill of a high speed chase. “Don’t Look Down” is even more rapid, yet the song is wonderfully defined. Dave Carroll’s fingers seem to effortlessly skip the banjo strings, making this song easily the most joyful song on the album.
Trampled by Turtles have certainly found the cohesion they sought for this record. Not only does Stars and Satellites into one solid piece, but it also speaks of this band’s own unity as members from several groups, initially not knowing their instruments, coming together to grow into their sound. This album is a testament that things just keep getting better for this five-piece bluegrass band.