Five blokes, mainly of full build, most with facial hair, including two fiercely hammering away at banjo and mandolin. With such an unfortunate name, this Minnesota-based bluegrass outfit need to be hot not only to distract us from the fact they are called (grit teeth) Trampled By Turtles, but also to obliterates any parallels with Mumford & Sons.
It is poor timing that the group embark on their first UK tour just as a backlash develops against the increasing numbers of acts aiming at authenticity via vintage instruments or threads. Formed in 2003 and now on their sixth album, TBT have only reached critical mass in the past couple of years.
With Stars And Satellites’ dusty dislocation, the group have finessed the raw strains of 2010’s Palomino. Even so, the five-piece may still need to show more of the patience that has seen them stealthily build an audience. Without Mumford’s bombast or the twee gloss of The Lumineers, this band can prosper if enough people see them in the flesh.
An unassuming bunch in Tees and work shirts (no waistcoats or braces here) they rely on collective musical strengths, with singer/guitarist Dave Simonett and Dave Carroll’s banjo intensifying the rhythmic force over Tim Saxhaug’s sturdy bass lines, allowing Erik Berry on mandolin and fiddle-player Ryan Young to shine as virtuosos.
There are whoops and hollers whenever the former joins the fray, especially his blistering cameos that fire the instrumental lifts that end several numbers, though Young proves the most expressive. Most effective is an especially anguished wail during ‘High Water’ and the aching regret he highlights on ‘Widower’s Heart’.
You still find yourself waiting eagerly for the next barnstormer, when the group let rip, though the TBT prove they can bolt tunes onto rockabilly swing, lush country pop or cowpunk stampede. Simonett, though, makes an unconvincing frontman. Not only is he as undemonstrative between songs as fellow Duluth residents Low, but his slightly nasal vocal struggles against the combined oomph of five stringed instruments.
Until, that is, the set’s closing stages, graced by more airy arrangements, especially the bravely stark anthem to alienation, ‘Alone’, while on slower numbers, he is aided by some watertight harmonies. At the end, Simonett rushes off stage and it transpires he picked up an ear infection on the flight over, meaning the encore is called off. At full strength, these Turtles could be flippin’ marvellous.