Friday, February 20, 2009

Trains: From The Oxford American

I must be out of my mind. I had this mad idea at the beginning of the week: I would go through all of my music samplers from The Oxford American magazine, and post every train song I found in one megapost at week’s end. But thinking of it wasn’t enough; no, I had to actually go through with it.

I began collecting The Oxford American’s annual music issues in 1999, with their third one. I was amazed at the quality, both of the writing, and of the music presented. To read more about this annual tradition in my house, go here. For now , it suffices to say that this search yielded up a fine crop of train songs.


The 1999 sampler included three train songs:

Billy Joe Shaver: Georgia on a Fast Train


Billy Joe Shaver occupies that second tier of Texas country artists, just below Willie, Waylon, and that crowd. The drop in quality from the first tier to the second is barely noticeable.

June Carter Cash: The L&M Don‘t Stop Here Anymore


June Carter Cash was a member of the first family of country music, the Carters. She also married Johnnie Cash. Royalty all around. The L&M Don’t Stop Here Anymore was one of her signature tunes.

Terri Binion: Locomotive


Terri Binion was one of the discoveries included in the 1999 sampler. At the time, I had no internet, and I could not find out anything about her. Now, I can tell you that she is a folk artist based in southern Florida. Since this song appeared, she has only released one other album, in 2007.


The next year’s sampler yielded up two more gems.

Doc and Merle Watson: The Train That Carried My Girl From Town


Doc Watson is the finest artist in southern folk music. He created the annual Merlefest in honor of his son and musical partner, who died too young.

The Derailers: Can‘t Stop a Train


How could we possibly get through a week of train songs without hearing from a group called the Derailers? They have been championing alt-country, or Americana, or whatever you call it, for ten years now, and the show no sign of letting up.


There are an almost infinite number of train songs out there, but there were no more in the Oxford American until 2007. And there were none this year. But 2007 yielded two more, both worthy of inclusion here.

Hackensaw Boys: Look Out Dog, Slow Down Train


Hackensaw Boys are an acoustic alt-country sort of big band. Confused? They are equally adept at playing bluegrass, or backing alt-country artists who plug in. They have had line-up shifts, but generally include eight or nine musicians. But the best way to get a handle on their music is to listen.

Reverend Charlie Jackson: Morning Train


In the South, prior to World War II, a young black musician had the choice of playing blues or gospel. Many of the old-time blues players talk about how their parents would beat them if they were caught playing the blues, “the Devil’s music”. Some of these young men turned to gospel music instead. Reverend Charlie Jackson was one of these. The structure of the tunes, the vocal style, even the meter of the lyric, all are similar to prewar blues. The big difference is the words.
Jackson’s music earned him praise with folk and blues audiences, and also with jazz fans.

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