Bluegrass music may be indigenous to the mountains of eastern Kentucky, but no one told that to Trampled by Turtles, a spectacularly named quintet from Duluth, Minnesota. On their fifth studio album, Palomino, the band proves that they can match acts like the Del McCoury Band and the Gibson Brothers, far better known in bluegrass circles, for sheer virtuosity. From the fantastic, fast-picking opener “Wait So Long” to the melancholic ballad “Bloodshot Eyes,” Trampled by Turtles’s musicianship is simply unassailable. Banjoist Dave Carroll and bassist Tim Saxhaug, in particular, give each of the band’s songs more compelling rhythm sections than those typically found in more traditional bluegrass arrangements.
In fact, the album’s best tracks, including the furious “Feet and Bones” and “It’s a War,” recall the frenetic punk energy of Hank Williams III’s backing band. The combination of fearless, unbridled joy and pure technical skill results in a handful of indulgent, show-offy instrumental passages, including the two-part “New Son/Burnt Iron,” that don’t add anything substantive to the record. But it’s that same combination that also carries Palomino through a couple of weaker songs: “Victory” stumbles through jam-band digressions, while album-closing “Again” aims for minimalism but barely registers as a song. Fortunately for Trampled by Turtles, the strength of their picking and their contagious energy makes Palomino one of the more exciting bluegrass albums in recent memory.