Trampled By Turtles are a drummer away from sounding like the Pogues of bluegrass--so fast and loud and melodically severe, in a traditional way, that you can never quite tell whether they're ripping off timeless old tunes or inventing timeless new ones. The music is proof that punk can still open ears to old forms. In fact, forget the drummer: At these speeds, adding one would only drown out the shifting textures of banjo, mandolin, and fiddle, which are so much more vivid for being unvarnished.
The crowd is moshing anyway, or so it sounds on this new live disc. The idea of streamlining Bill Monroe's ornate genre into a lightning blur of rock turns out to be both startling and funny. The hyper-picking of "Dyin'" is nearly surf guitar. The percussive strums of "Nowhere to Hide" crash like waves, leaving singer Dave Simonett to register as a frank, naked cry for empathy, rather than a deliverer of lyrics you notice. (Good thing, because "You're a sweet loving woman in a dirty town that emptied out my soul" sounds like a pickup line in an old-timey saloon.)
So the words fall short of Shane MacGowan's poetry. But Trampled By Turtles are so good, they may yet rise to their own occasion. Contrary to the tag lumping these musicians with bluegrass-lovin' Deadheads, this band don't "jam." Careful songcraft delivers the brief funk breakdown of "The Outskirts," and beyond the cover of "Outlaw Blues," Simonett uses phrasing like a cut-time Bob Dylan. (Trampled By Turtles also cover Nirvana's "On a Plane" in concert, though not here). I'll admit, beyond an intimacy with the mopping-up qualities of pizza at Dulono's (the banjo bar) and an enthusiasm for Dolly Parton's recent career, bluegrass has previously been mostly background noise to me. It's frontground noise here, and it's glorious.
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