How do I find that old familiar feeling?
The one that carried me so many years ago
When fun was Domino's and 7-Up and Seagram's
Things were different then, just moving nice a slow
I am late to the Turnpike Troubadours party, and I'm pretty pissed off about it.
How I just now came across this great band's songs in only the past few days is beyond me. They recently released a new album titled Goodbye Normal Street, but my introduction to the Troubadours came about two weeks ago when I listened to their second album, the wonderfully titled Diamonds & Gasoline, on Spotify. (I have since purchased the album, so worry not, constant purveyors of music consumer integrity.) I could spend several paragraphs writing about that album, but seeing as how this is a song review, I will get right to talking about a song I still cannot quit playing from Diamonds & Gasoline called "7 & 7."
The title "7 & 7" probably conjures up several of the same images for most people (read: copious bottles of alcohol, perhaps a few people passed out on the floor), but in this song it represents something that we lose as we grow older, what the narrator calls "that old familiar feeling, the one that carried me so many years ago, when fun was Domino's and 7-Up and Seagram's." So, right away we have a song that contains more intelligence in the tip of it's pinky finger than what one might find in many of today's most popular country radio songs.
Musically speaking, the song is played, sung, and produced to perfection, but the homespun poetic sensibility of the lyrics is what really jumps out at the listener. The entire song revolves around the short and straight-to-the-point chorus, when the narrator states and repeats, "I had no clue I'd be the boy who your mama warned you about." Every other lyric in the song should be taken as if this line was the root from which it grew. We are being told a story about the dissolution of a relationship. At the very least, whatever the details are of what happened, the narrator feels guilty about it to the point where even if it wasn't all his fault, he still thinks it was.
The song starts with a simple statement that any guy who's ever been in love can relate to:
Back when you
Well, when you were my darlin'
I didn't mind to lose a little sleep
It's even more so relatable if you think back to when you were 17--which later in the song we find out is around the time when the narrator called this girl his darlin'--when it's your first love and you think perhaps that you might love this girl forever (and let's be honest, a little piece of you always will). You stay over at her parents' house too late, you talk on the phone deep into the night, or you simply can't sleep because you cannot escape the thought of her.
In the second verse the narrator sees this old flame at the supermarket with her now husband and child, looking like a "picture of strength and grace and beauty," and probably happier with a family of her own than she ever was with him. And then comes the best part of the song, which is a great character-defining moment:
I know 'hello' would surely end up awkward
I never had a knack for talking anyway
And you're not the kind for bending over backward
I smile and turn my shopping cart around and walk away
In the third and final verse the narrator comes to a self-realization of sorts, and bleak as it may be, it is also liberating:
Ain't it strange how well I knew you back when I was 17
Loving you was easy, babe, but I was just a child
These days you ain't nothing, just an interstate daydream...
It really emphasizes the point that change in a person is inevitable, especially in those years between the late teens and throughout the twenties. And as we grow older, our perspective on love changes, too; it used to be "easy" because it was young and there wasn't yet an adult mind occupying your skull that was filled with second-guessing and distrust and the possibility of pain. It is a song about growing up, about becoming a man. Not in the "I'm so tough that nothing can hurt me" kind of way, but in the way of simply recognizing human nature (i.e. our striking ability to at times become what we despise the most), accepting the past as past (yet still, in some ways, present), and coming to terms with the reality and the ramifications of breaking hearts and getting yours broken.
As I mentioned earlier, the musical talent on display in "7 & 7" provides a perfectly made bed for these lyrics to lay in. In particular, there is is some ferocious electric guitar picking that is reminiscent of Brad Paisley (I'm sure there is a better comparison, but he's the first that pops into mind) if Paisley wasn't so content with the soulless showing off that many of his songs contain. Also, the fiddle shows up just the right amount, doing what it does best and imbuing this mid- to up-tempo song with longing and an ache of melancholy that many emotional ballads would be hard up to rival.
Most impressive, I think, is lead singer Evan Felker's vocal, which contains a rich, twangy soulfulness that comes nowhere close to broaching cheesy territory. I imagine it is what Mike Cooley of Drive-By Truckers fame would sound like if he sang a little higher, was a little bit younger, and didn't sound like he smokes ten packs of cigarettes a day. (To be sure, I think Mike Cooley has one of the best voices out there.) The way Felker can wrap his voice around a phrase is effortlessly emotive and nuanced, something unique in a day and age when vocal bombast is consistently praised and rewarded on shows like American Idol and The Voice. More than half of the best singers in the world would probably never be recognized on those shows. Felker surely would not.
In the end, I'm endlessly thankful for bands like Turnpike Troubadours who are making catchy, memorable, and intelligent country music in the modern age. It's a shame that bands like this probably have no chance at radio, because I feel they would garner a lot of listener support. For now, I'm content with listening to the Troubadours on my iPod connected to my car CD player's auxiliary jack or accompanied by some good headphones.
Beyond this song and the album from which it hails, I've got two other albums of theirs to purchase and listen to. When it's a band of this caliber, that's money well spent.