Album Review: Seth Turner

Seth Turner and the High Desert Drifters

Nine Years And Several Miles Later

 

Apparently Nevada’s Seth Turner is on the Chris Wall plan when it comes to releasing records:  Pump one out, go play live and do other stuff for a decade or so, then hit the studio again.

Well, ok.  That’s one way to go about it.  Question becomes, one supposes, what happens during that interim period and whether any of it contributes to making the wait worth it.  In Wall’s case, the wait is always worth it.  Turner and his jaw droppingly good band seem to be holding serve as well on that front with this, their second release.  The album title says it all, although the “several” really probably oughtta read more like “several hundred thousand miles.”  This outfit gets around all over the Great American West.  Lot of casino gigs, which often become a series of week-long residencies for lack of a better term.  Pros and cons abound in that scenario.  The rooms are pretty good, and there’s plenty of food to be had.  Always a crowd to draw, and a highly diverse one at that, which forces a degree of excellence and showmanship coupled with musical diversity to rise to the top if an act wants to survive.  Whole lot of wide-ranging tastes to cater to.  And a management team calling the shots that’s far less interested in whether you can layer one great set atop another than they are in getting your audience back out on their gaming floor.

It’s an interesting situation, and one far different than the vast majority of independent artists elsewhere in the USA find themselves facing these days.  On one hand, steady money and a fully booked gig calendar.  Sweet.  On the other, every opportunity – hell, every motivation, really – to drop into a rut and let artistic integrity cut bait and drift away.  Easy money and sweet perks on the casino circuit if you’re willing to play the cliché.  Just cover the standards, cash out, and live it up.

Neither Seth nor his band fall into that mold, however.  While they’re more than capable of turning out a set that challenges exactly nobody’s comfort zone when it’s necessary, more regularly they ride the open range.  Maybe Garth because the crowd wants it – hey, it’s a casino crowd, and you can’t really blame ‘em for not knowing any better – but definitely some Waylon.  And a metric shit ton of chicken fried originals that hit the senses like the aroma of a crock pot full of black eyed peas and okra way back in the day.

When we first heard Seth and the Drifters’ debut release, Another Day In My Life, it stunned us.  While the release had happened in 2004, it was 2013 before the record managed to snake its way from Nevada to our part of Texas.  It was a revelation, and writing about it last year in this very magazine you’re perusing, we had this to say:

Regardless of what might have been (yes, in this ‘90s-riddled review, that *is* a Little Texas reference), the fact is, Seth Turner is still here.  He’s making a Texas swing in June, and given both the substance of his now almost a decade old work and the new songs he’s penning, I expect he’ll find a fan base more than ready to welcome him into their pickup trucks and tack rooms and hay barns and, yes, even onto their back porches where the tea and the whiskey and the cigars and the happiness run rampant and boundless under a Comanche moon.

In a stunning stroke of fantastic luck…. We weren’t wrong.  Not one bit.  Nine Years and Several Miles Later picks up where the debut left off, but then again, no it doesn’t.  It’s very much its own album, but the sound and the beating hearts behind the vocals and the sweat stained and heartworn lyrics are simply unmistakable.  Where the first album had its stumbles and (near) misses, this one is steady start to finish.  That’s one of the ways you can tell right up front that the decade in between wasn’t wasted, and that those long nights on stages in front of audiences that go from rabid to couldn’t care less in the blink of a new promotion out on the casino floor taught the band lessons the patrons probably still don’t comprehend.  This is no lounge act, no Vegas-ish parody of a once prodigious talent now simply mailing in a nightly well-polished but lifeless role.  Seth Turner is a larger than life character, but he never plays one on stage.  Have to think that’s part of the reason the High Desert Drifters have stayed hitched to his horses through it all.  There’s something material here, something vibrant and powerful.

Also something a bit unique and refreshing when it differs from what we normally hear.  Turner and the boys are a country band, no question.  And can honky tonk it up with anybody touring today.  They’ve also got another gear, a whole other place they can take it to.  Have to think that’s a direct product of the casino circuit as opposed to a steady diet of beer joints and whiskey drenched dives.  “Maybe,” the third track on this album, makes this point clear as day.  The Hammond starts off slow at the beginning, and holy hell, there’s a Procol Harum chestnut flying off the bits and bytes of an MP3.  Except Gary Brooker is no Seth Turner when it comes to vocals, and this ain’t “Whiter Shade Of Pale.”  Rather, it’s a tune that will put you in that melancholy and introspective place while raking your heart over the coals of a lost and faded love where a few hot shimmering showers of sparks still fly when the wind (or mood) hits just right.

 

Maybe one day I’ll see you in Paris

The one in Texas, or back in Tennessee

I’ll be just passing through, you’ll be there for one night

We could sit down and try to make things right

More a memory and a wandering wistfulness than a love at that point, eh?  The haunted kind.  This song captures it perfectly, and on every level.  Even the production strips down to a mono sound, replete with the static and crackles you might remember from an old LP.  That B3 ain’t the only thing here dragging your insides down a memory lane you haven’t visited in ages.  The total effect comes off more like a countrified trance than just a song; in fact, you may find yourself having to listen a good number of times before you even catch more than just the first few lyrics.  It just takes you places that only you and your mind’s eye and heart’s silent cry can ever reach.  Fact is, the stanzas here are woven of something far more material than mere words; this track is about as good an introduction as any I’ve ever heard to the insidious and all-consuming power that a well-honed band can birth within a song.  It’s tremendous.

If that doesn’t intrigue you, and you’re thinking, well, just move along to a real country record… hold the weddin’, hoss.  Queue up “Put My Hat Back On.”  It’s a lushly arranged and gorgeously delivered paean to the greats of the genre who paved the way.  By the end, you aren’t sure if it’s the protagonist or country music herself that’s longing for someone to put their hat back on and stand by.  But you damned sure agree with the sentiment.  If Allan Jackson or Randy Travis had released this in the early ‘90s, it would be a stone cold staple on the jukebox in your mind.  Seriously impressive stuff.  Followed immediately by a Western swing kind of spin on “I Never Go Around Mirrors” that would make Bob Wills wish he’d written the damned song.

Plenty of up and at ‘em on the set list, too, though.  “Ramblin’ Down” and “Outlaw” evoke the best of Waylon and company, the latter managing in the process to land a well deserved roundhouse to the jaw of the current bastardization of what the term “outlaw” actually means in the musical realms.

Twelve songs deep, this album breathes life into country’s still beating soul at every turn.  It unleashes humor and insight in equal measures, tipping its hat to the great ones while blazing its own trail.  And when it gets introspective, oh son, it goes deep.  The closer, “Politics and Alcohol,” is a spoken word gem you’ll have to experience for yourself.  Nothing I can write will help set the stage or do it justice.  But it’s something every person living right now could stand to hear.  As is Turner’s cover of a little known Jeff Hopson tune titled “Kerouac On The Run.”  Hands down one of the most haunting, riveting, inescapably profound and beautiful songs ever penned.  The song will be released soon on Hopson’s debut album, and we’ll save an in depth look at it for that review.  But you need to hear the way Seth does it.  This version will stick to your ribs while it lights up the incandescent movie screen in your mind.

Beauty abounds on Nine Years and Several Miles Later.  Profoundly different in some ways, as noted above, from what we’re all accustomed to hearing these days.  But that’s a wonderful thing.  This album is the product of a singer and a band who all mutually appreciate and deeply love the roots of country’s truest forms.  It’s incredible to find a set of players this accomplished, this tight, outside of the session world.  Yet here they are, on stages all over the West one night and in a studio capturing magic together for you and me the next.  This music and the collection of artists who craft it for us is not to be missed.  It will get overlooked because the mainstream is what it is, but that’s got no bearing on the validity and worth of this album.  Country ain’t dead, kids.

Says here that as long as Seth Turner and the High Desert Drifters are riding the range, she won’t be dying, either.  Waltzing from Rapid City to the coast of Texas, perhaps, and turning places in between into old time barn cotillions every time the bus stops for a night.  That’s gonna be the best way I know to explain it.  Seth Turner.  Tack room, pickup truck, campfire coffee and dancehall approved.  Write that down.

There’s an active web link for Seth Turner and the High Desert Drifters at http://www.sethturner.com/.  It’s under construction, so just bookmark it for now.  Then ramble over to http://www.reverbnation.com/sethturnerandthehighdesertdrifters to hear a few songs off the new album (try “Is It Us” in particular, trust me) or familiarize yourself a bit with the back catalog.  And www.facebook.com/sthddband to connect on FB and ask Seth yourself to get a copy of the new record headed toward your mailbox.

 

Dave Pilot lives in north Texas with his first good wife (don’t ask about the other one), seven horses, and five dogs.  When his wife’s not looking, he tries to figure out ways to feed the 987 or so cats to the coyotes out behind the fenceline.  When he’s not trying to raise his kids to turn out better than he did, he’s hitting historical sites on his way to honky-tonks from Denton to Port Aransas. Visit Dave Pilot on Facebook.

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