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Trampled by Turtles – Stars and Satellites album review

Combining instrumental precision with songcraft and tons of feel, Trampled by Turtles creates modern folk music that cuts right to the heart of the American musical experience. Formed in Minnesota in 2003, the group has maintained a high musical profile throughout their nearly ten year long career.

Stars and Satellites, the groups sixth release, continues this, presenting music that is respectful of it’s idiom and tradition while also presenting a unique contribution. This is music that is lush and beautiful, presented by a group that has vocal and instrumental gifts in ample abundance.

The instrumentation is fairly straightforward, consisting of banjo, upright bass, fiddle, and guitar. The lack of any timekeeper forces a different response to the demands of temporal organization; listen to ‘Risk’ and the track right after it, ‘Widower’s Heart’, for an example of the rhythmic versatility of the band. The fragile melancholy of ‘Widower’s Heart’ stands in stark contrast to the high-voltage virtuoso display of ‘Risk’. ‘Widower’s Heart’ is also a good example of the interplay between the band and vocalist/guitarist Dave Simmonet; the mood evoked truly resonates with the imagery of the words. Another key element is The vocalizing; Mr. Simmonet has a solid melodic sense and a clearly articulated, soulful delivery. His voice is simply another instrument in the band; the background harmonies, when present, achieve a similar ‘instrumental’ quality.

Bluegrass has long felt like some second cousin of jazz, despite the lack of drums; the instrumentals further confirm that impression. Chord progressions built on standard bass lines acting as vehicles for displays of technique. Bluegrass also seems to share something similar to Eastern European folk music. Check out the accompaniment to the main melodic line on ‘Don’t Look Down’. Those chordal hits on the & of every beat for those few bars feels so right out of a Russian folk tune. The way the rest of the music unwinds serves to impress again.

Tightly picked passages unfold tightly against a rock solid rhythm section. All in all, an assemblage of beautiful music presented by a tight group. Not to be missed.

By Paul Paradis

Paul is a musician, writer, and teacher living in Tacoma. When not engaged in the endless task of raising his six year old whirling dervish James Sparhawk, he spends his time creating music, pursuing a bachelor's, working out, and living. He is originally from the east coast: Worcester, Mass. born, and Providence, RI bred. Having traveled around some, the Pacific Northwest tends to feel more and more like home with each passing day, Very similar to New England in some ways, but different in a way that is refreshing. Rock on.

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