Friday, September 19, 2014

Turnstiles lean on classic country and rock playbook on new album

Cleaning my house recently (which probably means I was obsessively arranging my four-year-old's toys as if for a window display - we all have our quirks) my iPod shuffled to the song "Thinking Back" from Charlotte band the Turnstiles' new album "Souvenir Summer." My first thought was, "Is this the new Son Volt? It's really good."

Frontman and chief songwriter Brad Thomas doesn't have Jay Farrar's signature low twang, but there's certainly something Son Volt-ish about his phrasing. For me it summons images of John Travolta and Madolyn Smith on the dancefloor at Gilley's in 1980's "Urban Cowboy" (if it's any indication of the Turnstiles' material, classics like "Lookin' For Love," "Lyin' Eyes," and "Look What You've Done to Me" all appeared on the "Urban Cowboy" soundtrack).

The honky-tonk numbers on "Souvenir Summer" remind me of Dwight Yoakam (especially "The Bright Lights of Elkin") - meaning they could've have a shot at hits in the `80s and `90s before mainstream country was so indistinguishable from pop music that it defied its own genre (honestly, how many current country hits are built on a sample and loop?). "Souvenir Summer" is closer to the country-rock of old which places it snugly in that current Americana neighborhood.

It's more textured than simple categorization implies though. "Casino Pier," for instance, is the album's wild card. It's a dark, somber tale with a flitting guitar fill that hints at the band and Thomas' versatility. The opener "Southside" charges with country-rock drive. Thomas peppers his compositions with curious images that provide a visual map of the stories he's telling, especially on songs like "Southside," "Casino Pier," and the haunting "Hillside Grave." Just the title "Guardrail Vaportrail" provides a stark image and creates curiosity - does it not?

The Turnstiles can rock with Eagles-meets-Replacements fire too ("Trustafari Safari"). They aren't just well written lyrically, but they're written musically with a sort of familiarity. That would indicate the Turnstiles, some of who I see at shows and have hosted touring bands at house shows, have done their homework when it comes to writing and arranging. Many of the songs are easily put to memory making it easy to tap a foot and sing-along on the chorus while leaning in to hear the lyrics during the verses.

The Turnstiles play the Bathtub Gin in downtown Mooresville tonight, Friday, September 19. Admission is free.