Turnpike Troubadours Listening Guide: A Primer

By: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor’s Note: A more formal and in-depth Listener’s Guide to Turnpike Troubadours will be released closer to the release date of A Long Way From Your Heart. Preorder it today here.

Yesterday, Turnpike Troubadours debuted the lead off single, “The Housefire,” for their upcoming album, A Long Way From Your Heart. In the opening lines, a familiar character, Lorrie, shows up. It’s made a fervent fanbase dissect their catalog more so than any other band in recent memory. Everyone’s an amateur detective looking for clues on how to get from Point A to Point Z.

When I had Evan Felker and RC Edwards on the podcast last year, a large portion of the conversation was about Felker, Edwards, and company deciding to create their own folklore. The idea that characters could pop up in cameo roles and as the main subject really was brought on by the songwriting duo’s love for novelists like Stephen King, J.D. Salinger, and William Faulkner.

Once the album is released, I’ll expand on this Listening Guide for the album and how it relates to previous Turnpike albums and songs, but this is meant as some sort of catch up course.

Lorrie: “The Housefire,” “The Mercury,” and “Good Lord Lorrie”
Jimmy: “The Funeral,” and “The Mercury”
Danny: “The Bird Hunters” and “Down Here”
Browning Shotgun” “The Housefire” and “The Bird Hunters”

When asked during the podcast and solo Edwards interview, both confirmed these connections, saying that they were the only ones so far. They added that they hadn’t been exploring this idea until they began writing songs for Turnpike Troubadours and weren’t interested in retroactively connecting songs between the three previous albums.

That’s really, really important. While it can be super-fun to look over each song with a fine-tooth comb and creating your own connections, they’re not exactly connected by the writers themselves.

It’s obvious when Lorrie shows up. She’s mentioned by name. There haven’t been any first-person accounts from her. The same can be said for Jimmy. Danny is slightly different. He’s in “The Bird Hunters” as a character and friend of the narrator and the narrator himself in “Down Here,” which it can be highly assumed as the response to the narrator of “The Bird Hunters.”

The connection between “The House Fire” and “The Bird Hunters” is slightly more speculative because the only real connection is the Belgian made Browning that shows up between the two. When I asked Edwards a few weeks about it, he said it was “something like that.”

Which, I’m assuming either means: A) The narrator of “The Bird Hunters” and “The Housefire” is the same, B) Danny is the narrator of “The Housefire,” or C) the shotgun somehow was passed along between the characters of “The Bird Hunters” and “The Housefire.” I think A and B are far more likely than C.

Personally, I don’t think the web of characters is spun as tightly as some have speculated. I don’t feel the “Burned out Bettie Page” of “The Funeral” is also Lorrie. I don’t feel the narrator of “Good Lord Lorrie” is Jimmy. I don’t think Jimmy is the narrator of “The Bird Hunters” or “The Housefire.” I don’t feel Lorrie is the woman who the narrator of “The Bird Hunters” is speaking about leaving. Etc, Etc, Etc.

(Mind you, I’m not trying to spoil anyone’s fun. I love the theories. Send them all my way at newslang.editors@gmail.com. )

Mainly, because Felker and Edwards haven’t mentioned anything of the nature. But also because Felker and Edwards liked the loose connections of King, Salinger, and Faulkner. They liked how the characters of King’s canon were loose connections, brief mentionings, and never fully woven together. If they truly wanted to give you the Lorrie narrative or the Jimmy narrative, they’d do it in virtually every song. These songs are meant to be a fly on the wall moments between long absences.

Now, those songs could very well be connected, but I think it’s really a long shot. Felker and Edwards just haven’t had the time to connect them all. This idea is fairly new. I think we sometimes get some false connections because the writers have their own voice, speaking and writing styles, branding, and lexicon.

This is meant to be outlandish and ridiculous, but hopefully to prove a point. Would it be safe to say that every song that Turnpike mentions having a shot of whiskey or bottle of beer is directly connected? Of course not. That’d be foolish.

What’s maybe being undervalued or looked over is simply the Felker Narrative and Edwards Narratives. I firmly believe both are characters in this TurnpikeWorld. They both have had plenty of songs come from their own personal experiences—for example, “Kansas City Southern, “Easton & Main,” “Fall Out of Love?” (Edwards), “Shreveport,” “7&7,” “Down on Washington (Felker).

“Bossier City” is a rough account based on an uncle. “Morgan Street” is based off a bar frequented in Tahlequah. “Blue Star” is based on another uncle. “Southeastern Son” is based on some cousins. What I’m saying is that these songs are still primarily based on Felker and Edwards.

Which, still fits within their characterization of Eastern Oklahoma. You must remember, Oklahoma is still the largest character in Turnpike Troubadours songs. Her landscape and history still drive the characters. Oklahoma is the force behind every single story and detail. Every song is a brushstroke. Oklahoma is the painting. Lorrie and Jimmy aren’t the stories. They’re just the harbinger for Felker, Edwards, and company’s larger, more important American story.

That’s what I mean by Turnpike creating their own American myth and folklore. Once they’re down with their masterpiece, you won’t look back and think of the individual songs, but you’ll view it as a whole. It’s not quite Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, John Henry, Johnny Appleseed, and Davy Crockett, but it’s getting there.