Dave Simonett of Trampled by Turtles Showcases Songwriting Gems on Solo Debut- ‘Red Tail’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Dave Simonett fronts the popular acoustic roots band Trampled by Turtles and another side project Dead Man Winter. He’s a songwriter with one of those special crooning voices. Its beauty lies more in subtlety than power, a smooth vehicle to drive his melodic songs. This collection of eight songs qualifies more as a mini-album, but Simonett felt he had a window to get these songs out when he wasn’t recording with one of his bands. Not knowing whether these would be demos or a full album, it just so happened they fell out rather naturally as a solo effort.

Simonett recorded half of the tracks at his own studio in Minneapolis and the other half with friends at Pachyderm Studios hidden in the woods of Cannon Falls, MN. “We did everything live. None of the guys knew any of the songs,” Simonett says. “It was just real casual, and I won’t say easy, but as close to easy as it can be. There was just this light attitude throughout the whole process, even when I was working on my own.”  While the songs are grounded in the kind of acoustic rock that’s framed Simonett’s two decades plus career, he brings in sonic textures that seem both lush and sparse – it’s just the right amount of fill. 

It’s like some of the other great albums recorded in Minnesota, reminding this writer of The Pines, David Huckfelt’s solo album, and in a few cases,  though not as dark or bluesy, it has some ambient qualities of the brilliant album from Jeffrey Foucault, Salt As Wolves,  Simonett’s songs are relaxed, poetic, conversational, warm, and genuinely uplifting, reflecting his going in mood.  He was clearly inspired by the spacious outdoors and the stark Northern woods of Minnesota, and, as such, uses light, weather and imagery to songs that become both cinematic and introspective. The prime example is the six-minute piano imbued “In the Western Wind and the Sunrise” where a listener can easily fall into a dreamlike trance-like state.

One can hear the imagined Minnesota weather in the opening “Revoked” where Simonett sets the tone for the short set by saying he’s “feeling fine now.” The layers of sound melded by acoustic guitar, pedal steel and organ build the highly melodic “Pisces, Queen of Hearts,” a terrific song with infectious hooks and the gorgeous line “I’m hoping we’ll meet again/In the space between the stars and the tree line.”  “Silhouette” is full of lyrical nuggets hurled through a bevy of jangling guitars – “And the holy ghost we’re promised never bothered to show up/Or maybe we just missed the signs.” “By the Light of the Moon” is another injected with weather imagery – “it’s cold where I come from/but I don’t mind/There’s not much filler or wasted time.” Simonett confesses to writing lots of songs in the wintertime and he’s a true outdoorsman who loves to fish, hunt and camp.

” It Comes and Goes” reveals his skills as a guitarist, a role he rarely assumes in his two bands. The standout track and more most likely to garner airplay and streams is “You Belong Right Here.” The sincerity of his line “Why are you leaving? /Don’t you know you belong right here” is utterly convincing, strengthened by the subsequent distorted guitar solo before the classic indelible melody has you humming along. The closer, “There’s a Lifeline Deep in the Night Sky” sounds like a demo, complete with voices of bandmates in the studio as they close triumphantly in a bond of friendship and hope, knowing they’ve made some truly great music.

This is an album that will sneak up on you. If you listen casually at first, you may easily dismiss it as “nice music with some cool layered sounds.”  Come back for a more concentrated listen, and you begin to realize just how strong and well put together these songs are, buoyed by the lush layers of sound. Then, you’re hooked. The songs will stay with you, bringing you back for repeat listens and a futile hope that there’s more than just eight songs. He leaves you wanting more. Let’s hope more solo outings follow.

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