"A Cat in the Rain" marks the triumphant return of The Turnpike Troubadours, their first album in six years, reborn after their demise in 2019. A bit more mature, wiser, and, in the case of frontman and principal songwriter Evan Felker, a now sober approach. Their catchy hooks, singalong choruses and Felker's relatable lyrics have long inspired their fervent fanbase, which has remarkably remained intact, possibly even grown, despite the hiatus.
The band remains the same – Felker (vocals, guitar), Kyle Nix (fiddle), Ryan Engleman (electric guitar), RC Edwards (bass), Gabe Pearson (drums) and Hank Early (pedal steel, accordion). The themes that course through these 10 songs are understandably about rebirth, rebounding and redemption.
The band deftly mixes banjo and fiddle with electric and pedal steel guitars, but not in an overpowering way. Lyrics and harmony vocals are the primary thrust. It's a band that knows its strengths and is keenly aware of why their audiences are so loyal. One key difference is having Shooter Jennings at the helm as producer, who, according to Felker, makes their vocal harmonies stronger than ever. He adds that Jennings also infused subtle psychedelia into their sound. Ryan Engleman admits to leaving even more space for the songs, playing more single guitar notes than chords.
The banjo driven opener "Mean Old Sun," about the unrepentant gambler, is a defiant in your face statement that apart from the lush harmonies, belies most of the album which leans introspective. Felker's fiddle imbued "Brought Me" is so universally themed whether it be a nod to his wife, the band or as Felker says, it's for their fans in the sense of being there for each other. One can easily envision the live crowd singing along with the band on this one.
Teeming with catchy hooks and engaging narrative "Lucille," "Chipping Mill" (written by Edwards) and "The Rut" are classic Turnpike Troubadour songs. The title track is the epitome of resilience. The band also covers the stomping Ozark Mountain Daredevils ("Black Sky"), fellow Okie John Fullbright's "Three More Days" and closes with a nod to Felker's favorite, the late Jerry Jeff Walker, in the aptly titled "Won't You Give Me One More Chance," giving us a direct window into their influences. They may be a bit smoother than previous efforts, but certainly a return with aplomb.