Saturday, February 21, 2009

Trains: Last Train

Allen Toussaint: Last Train


You got me huffin' and puffin' and chuggin' like a choo-choo train...

Because I couldn't resist closing the week with a song called Last Train. And because it's a masterpiece of seventies sexual innuendo, full of horns and downright funky, if a bit over the top as far as the train motif is concerned. Boogie on.

Trains: I Miss A Lot Of Trains

Iris Dement: I Miss A Lot Of Trains [purchase]

In my humble opinion, Tom T. Hall is a songwriting genius. But apparently not everyone likes the way he sings. So tonight I give you Tom T. Hall for the masses--or at least the masses that like the way Iris Dement sings. Come to think of it, that might not be too many more masses. Oh well.

Anyway, this one goes out to the Iris Dement fans out there who want to hear an expertly-crafted song that mentions trains.

Trains: Pulling into the Station Edition

Katy Moffatt: This Heart Stops for Railway Crosses


Salamander Crossing: Passion Train


Susan Werner: Time Between Trains


Ah, so many train songs, so little time - please allow me to share three more favorites before the last whistle blows. This week has been quite a journey... segueing from melancholy to rollicking and everything in between... but our destination is in sight - why do I seem to have more baggage upon departing than boarding?

Katy Moffatt released The Greatest Show on Earth in 1993 but was prompted by a lawsuit from The Ringling Brothers Circus to re-release the recording as Evangeline Hotel - regardless of the title, between the lyrics (most of the songs are co-written with Tom Russell) and Katy's emotional yet powerful voice, it's a stunning piece of work... with the piece de resistance being This Heart Stops for Railway Crosses, a guaranteed lump-in-the-throat inducer every time...

Salamander Crossing, famous in New England in the 90's for "blending bluegrass instrumentation, stunning 3 part harmonies and an eclectic repertoire" disbanded in late 1999... and lead singer and fiddler Rani Arbo went on to form Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem - I've always loved the explanation for their choice of band name: "Under Henry Street in Amherst, Massachusetts, there lies a pair of tunnels. On the first warm, wet rainy night of spring, hundreds of salamanders begin a slow crawl from their wintering grounds across the street to a vernal pond to mate. The lucky ones find the tunnels. So there you have it. You want love, you gotta take a few risks."

I've seen Susan Werner tens of times (at various festivals, conferences and house concerts) - easily segueing from singer-songwriter folk to torch cabaret to agnostic gospel... and, in her latest release, chamber-music classic rock, she (to paraphrase one of her lyrics) "never disappoints" - I also love how she changes the line in Time Between Trains ("wonderin' why the fates above always route love through Miami") to another city when she plays here in South Florida... :-)

P.S. My understanding is that Boyhowdy will be showcasing Susan Werner on Cover Lay Down this week (probably tomorrow) - check it out!

[Edit boyhowdy 9:19 pm: Susan Werner cover feature now up at Cover Lay Down!]

Friday, February 20, 2009

Trains: Train Song

Vashti Bunyan: Train Song


Being a coverblogger means discovering the past through the present as much as it means rediscovering the familiar through good coverage. Case in point: Vashti Bunyan's 1966 single Train Song, which I recently went back to after hearing the stunningly anachronistic harmonies Feist and Ben Gibbard bring to their recent version of the song on Dark Was the Night, this year's incarnation of the Red Hot and Blue compilation, which has been sweeping all the big indieblogs for the last few weeks.

Feist and Gibbard are nothing to sneeze at, of course, and their cover certainly does the song justice. But Bunyan's original is the true trainsong, bringing the light ch-ch-ch of a latenight train to her guitar, layering the miles of memory on top with strings and lead guitar, finally floating her etherial lyrics of travel and longing over the whole thing. It's the perfect cinematic atmosphere for the sentiment, and a happy development for all of us that the modern freakfolk movement has helped us rediscover Bunyan, thus prompting the 2007 rerelease of this reel-to-reel.

Note: As Dark Was the Night is both new and for charity, I'm not sharing the Feist/Gibbard cover; if you're an indiefolk fan who hasn't heard it yet, samples can be had here.

Trains: The Tracks Edition

Kris Delmhorst: You're No Train


John Gorka: I Don't Feel Like a Train

[purchase] (out of print through his website)

So... all week we've been hearing about things from the point of view of the train... and I thought it time for another side of the story, eh? - perspective is everything. In a train songs mix I made for myself a few years ago, I placed these one after the other, and now I consider them lifelong companion pieces - "baby you’re no train, you’re the track, always running away, always running back"... and "I don't feel like a train anymore, I feel like the track, and if you want to change your luck put a penny on my back"...

I've written about Kris Delmhorst before - from her website:

Kris Delmhorst has built a thriving career and a devoted following from the ground up, and without major label hype. The same independence of spirit that led Delmhorst to spend some early years working on subsistence farms, cooking on a schooner off the coast of Maine, or hitch-hiking the back roads of Ireland with a fiddle on her back, is evident in the arc of her musical evolution: a willingness to work on her own terms and her own time. Along the way she's parlayed a decade of successful cross country and trans-Atlantic touring into one of the most distinct voices in American music.

John Gorka is a folk icon... and I've been lucky enough to see John quite a few times at various festivals and conferences... as well as anticipating his appearance in my concert series in February 2010 (trying to wait patiently!) - from his website:

His albums and his touring (over 150 nights a year at times) brought new accolades for his craft. Rolling Stone called him “the preeminent male singer/songwriter of the new folk movement.” His rich multi-faceted songs full of depth, beauty and emotion gained increasing attention from critics and audiences across the country, as well as in Europe where his tours led him through Italy, Belgium, Scotland, Ireland, Holland, Switzerland and Germany.

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.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Trains: Midnight Train to Memphis

The Steeldrivers: Midnight Train To Memphis


I was blown away by The Steeldrivers at last winter's Joe Val Bluegrass festival. The combination of solid Grammy-winning bluegrass session players and Chris Stapleton's incredibly torn R & B vocals and songwriting bring a whole new life to the genre, and even with a major flu running through the band, their energy onstage was unrivaled by anything I've seen then or since, period.

I'm not the only one to have noticed, either. In fact, in the intervening year, I've seen them at several New England bluegrass festivals, and at each venue, they were the only band playing to get a standing ovation in the middle of their set.

Fellow SMM contributor Nelson has featured their work several times, most recently noting that Chris has started a rock 'n roll side project which promises to be every bit as good as this. Here's hoping both bands get their rightful recognition in the year to come. In the meantime, here's the gospel.

Trains: Hey Conductor

Dave Carter: Hey Conductor introduction (from Rocky Mountain Folks Festival, 8/19/01)

Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer: Hey Conductor

[purchase] (scroll down to Tanglewood Tree CD)

I've posted Dave Carter songs a time or two on this blog - he was a brilliant songwriter who still, over six years after his death, is so much missed. I was thrilled to remember I had a live recording of Dave's introduction of Hey Conductor - what a great storyteller he was as well...

This song also possesses the ubiquitously joyful train tempo - I tried to do it justice but when I went to my friend RG's site (if you need folk chords and lyrics, this is the place for you!) for inspiration, I found Ron said it better than I ever could...

This rollicking, knee-slapping, toe-tapping tour-de-force is one the most wildly entertaining songs I've ever heard. From Tracy's exuberant "Yee-ha!" after the second chorus to her absolutely hysterical tribute to The Wabash Cannonball during the mandolin break, it never fails to crack me up.

Here's the most poetic and thorough article I've ever read about Dave and Tracy (written before Dave's passing), even though it doesn't even touch on their third recording, Drum Hat Buddha, released May 2001...

Trains: The Railpak Dun Done In The Del Monte

Sir Douglas Quintet - The Railpak Dun Done In The Del Monte [Purchase]

In January 1971, Doug Sahm returned to his native Texas after a five-year sabbatical in the San Francisco Bay Area. Once home, he cut his final album with the '70s edition of the Sir Douglas Quintet, The Return Of Doug Saldaña (available above as a two-fer with 1+1+1=4). According to Doug, "Saldaña is the name the Mexicans gave me. They said that I had so much Mexican in me that I needed a Mexican name."

"Railpak," cut in early '71, is Sahm's love letter to both Monterey County and "soulful trains," and is delivered as a kind of Woody Guthrie talking blues. The Del Monte was an actual Southern Pacific train line between Monterey and San Francisco whose service was discontinued on April 30, 1971. The picture above is from a great pictorial overview of the Del Monte's final Saturday run.

"Railpak" is a unique species in the Sahm canon, as I can't think of another song he did in the folkie troubadour style. In fact, other than "Oh Lord, Please Let It Rain in Texas," which follows "Railpak" on the Doug Saldaña LP, there are precious few songs with just Doug and an acoustic guitar. Enjoy.

Trains: Last Train to Clarksville

Cassandra Wilson: Last Train to Clarksville


Let me introduce a new term: guilty displeasure. A guilty displeasure is a something a person once liked, but know longer does, and now finds completely embarrassing. Case in point: I remember watching the Monkees TV show when it originally aired.

In my defense, I was about 7 at the time. I also remember, from around the same time, carefully clipping a 45 by the Archies off the back of a box of Honeycomb cereal. Yes, you could do that with vinyl. I got over the Archies too.

Of course, Last Train to Clarksville was a big hit for the Monkees. As such, I had lumped the song in with all the other trivial and shallow songs of the Bubblegum genre. That is, until Cassandra Wilson covered it. The album Full Moon Daughter was actually my introduction to her music. I had read an intriguing review, but track 8 had me very anxious. Well, the first seven songs are good. But why would an artist like this cover the Monkees? Then the song started, and my jaw went to the floor. Cassandra Wilson has completely reimagined the song. Lo and behold, she actually finds depth in the lyric. What had been nothing more than a piece of pop fluff is now a powerful song of yearning. And I have been a Cassandra Wilson fan ever since.

Announcement: One of the most remarkable train songs I have heard in a long time is called God’s 9:05. It’s by J Shogren, who was new to me as well. I posted the song with my review of his latest album on Oliver di Place. Come have a listen, and let me know what you think.

Trains: Amtrak Crescent

Scott Miller and the Commonwealth: Amtrak Crescent


For a more traditional train song we turn to Scott Miller and the Amtrak Crescent, a rail line that runs from New Orleans to New York. Even when life goes wrong... the train rolls on and on.

This song is a sort of travelogue documenting the many stops along the train's journey. The narrator buys a cheap ticket in New Orleans in an attempt to escape yet another sticky situation. At each stop along the way, he finds something to hold his interest (Georgia peaches, Carolina BBQ, etc...), yet he always allows the train to carry him away.

In January of 2004 Miller decided to live out his song... taking his band out on the rails for an Amtrak Crescent tour. Scott Miller and the Commonwealth played 15 shows in three weeks using only the Crescent for transportation. Miller's blog documenting the trip is still up and is an interesting read.

Trains: Wave

Alejandro Escovedo: Wave


This isn't a traditional train song. There aren't any images of riding the rails or any references to hearing the whistle blow. In fact, I might not even recognize this as a train song unless I had read the liner notes to a live album released by Alejandro's fan club in 2004. Here is what Alejandro has to say about the song...

"My father was born in Saltillo, Mexico in 1907. When he was a young boy, his parents left him to be raised by his grandparents while they went to look for work in South Texas. Saltillo at this time was nothing more than a railroad junction and my father and his grandmother would spend hours watching the trains come in and out of this small town. They would make up stories about the people on the trains as if they knew where they were headed or where they were coming from, as if they knew them and they shared the same journey. When my father reached the age of twelve, his sixteen year old cousin told him if they hopped this train headed north, they would be able to find my father's parents in Texas. My father, without telling his grandmother, boarded this train headed north. The story goes that his grandmother was left waving unbeknownst to her that her grandson was on this train and whom she was never to see again."

This version of the song comes from Alejandro's 2001 release A Man Under the Influence.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Trains: That Train Don't Stop Here Anymore

Los Lobos: That Train Don't Stop Here Anymore


Ah, Los Lobos. Nothing lonesome here - this is all high-octane tejano-influenced roots rock, with just a touch of country and blues under the rail. The song comes on like a steady train, accelerating into the curve and then stretching out between stations before roaring into the chorus with a screech and wail like an East LA subway car.

One of only two songs not written by guitarist, accordionist, vocalist and lead songwriter David Hidalgo on 1992 release Kiko, That Train takes the perfect fourth spot on what is generally accepted to be their most experimental album. The set runs highly diverse, but it's still the one I pull out when the party really starts to rock, and it always results in someone asking to borrow it.

Trains: Just Like This Train

Joni Mitchell: Just Like This Train


Of course we must include the very fitting selection by "the godmother of our blog" - Just Like This Train, one of my favorite Joni Mitchell songs, is on 1974's Court and Spark, in her first collaboration with the amazing Tom Scott and the L.A. Express...

From AllMusicGuide:

Joni Mitchell reached her commercial high point with Court and Spark, a remarkably deft fusion of folk, pop, and jazz which stands as her best-selling work to date... a unified and insightful concept record exploring the roles of honesty and trust in relationships, romantic and otherwise... moves away from confessional songwriting into evocative character studies...

Much of Court and Spark is devoted to wary love songs, carefully measuring the risks of romance... fraught with worry and self-doubt (standing in direct opposition to the music, which is smart, smooth, and assured from the first note to the last)...

I love the self-comparison of Joni's opening lines...

I'm always running behind the time
Just like this train
Shaking into town
With the brakes complaining

I used to count lovers like railroad cars
I counted them on my side
Lately I don't count on nothing
I just let things slide

...and she carries the train imagery throughout, not only in the lyrics but in the musicianship - many of the train songs we've showcased this week rely on the insistent rhythm of the rails... but this one has an undertone of monotony and introspection and resignation, as the train chugs across the Canadian prairie ("settle down into the clickity-clack", Joni sings). Her sense of humor is at its most wicked ("dreaming of the pleasure I'm gonna have watching your hairline recede, my vain darling") - JT, maybe?

The "oh, sour grapes" line gets me every time - my heart's been lost to Joni for 4+ decades... and counting!

Trains: Train Round The Bend

The Velvet Underground: Train Round The Bend


"I'm sick of the trees. Take me to the city. Train comin' round the bend."

This song isn't really about anything (other than Lou's preference for the city over the country). But it sounds cool, which is worth a ton in my book.

Trains: Mystery Train

I'll always remember as a child waking in the middle of the night to the sound of trains in the distance. There seemed to be an endless stretch of cars that would clang on beat as they passed over the rails - it never really was a bother, my already fuzzy dreamlike state would enhance the mystery of where those trains were headed. Between that deep thought and the metronomic chugging of the locomotive, it wouldn't take long to fall back asleep. The Mystery Train has always been very real to me, the romantic notion of the great unknown that awaits ahead.

Little Junior's Blue Flames: Mystery Train


Mystery Train was written by vocalist/harmonicist Junior Parker and Sun Records owner Sam Phillips. It was recorded at Sun studios in 1953 and had charted on Billboard's R&B charts.

Parker had been discovered in 1952 by Ike Turner, who signed him to Modern Records. He put out one single, You're My Angel, which brought him to the attention of Phillips, who then took him to Sun, where he reached #5 on the R&B charts with Feelin' Good.

In 1974, Al Green dedicated Take Me To The River to Parker, whom he described as "a cousin of mine who's gone on, and we'd kinda like to carry on in his name."

Elvis Presley: Mystery Train


Elvis Presley's version of Mystery Train was released in 1955 as the B-side of I Forgot to Remember to Forget. Also produced by Phillips at Sun Studios, it featured the classic lineup of Scotty Moore on guitar and Bill Black on bass. It reached #1 on the Billboard National Country charts, where it stayed for 5 weeks and continued to chart for another 39, cementing Elvis' star status.

Oddly, for Presley's cover, Moore used the guitar riff from Parker's Love My Baby, which can be found at my post, thanks to all the little people.

Mystery Train inspired a movie by director Jim Jarmusch and a brilliant tome by Greil Marcus that many refer to as the best book ever written about Rock. As long as there's still the sound of trains in the distance, there will be a Mystery Train entwined in our cultural lore.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Trains: Tracks and Tunnels

The Softies: Tracks and Tunnels


This is one of my favorite songs by a band I love. The Softies consist of songwriters Rose Melberg and Jen Sbragia, harmonizing and playing simple melodies on two electric guitars with no accompaniment and very little production. They make sweet songs about love and friendship, and are probably one of the best examples of what the "twee" sound is that I could name. The gentle nature of their sound always makes me feel calm, and the sweet nature of their lyrical content always makes me smile.

I enjoy this song in particular because of the rhythmic cords they use as a beat instead of what most bands might use percussion for. They're simple, but there's something sweet and melodic about it that really gives character to the song. It mimics the slow rhythmic movement of a train over the tracks and works effectively to make you feel the sleepy nature of such a ride. It's a song about moving on after an argument. The rhythm of the song, and those simple cords allow us to feel like we're on that slow moving train in the snow and the process of getting to where we want to be, physically and emotionally, is both melancholy and longer than we'd like.

Trains: My Baby Thinks She’s a Train

Asleep at the Wheel: My Baby Thinks She‘s a Train


My father grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the years leading up to World War II. This was before video games, before television even, and radio was king. Years later, my father could still recite from memory a radio ad for Carter’s Little Liver Pills. And the music he grew up hearing on the radio was western swing. My brothers and I may have been the only boys in 1960’s New Jersey who had heard of the Lightcrust Doughboys and Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. After the war, western swing all but disappeared. It surfaced occasionally as a flavor used by country artists, but there were no bands solely devoted to playing it.

In the early 1970s, that changed. Asleep at the Wheel was a band that had its roots in Philadelphia (!), but eventually settled in Austin, Texas. And from the beginning, they were devoted to reviving western swing. For me, this meant that I could finally hear the musical style my father remembered so fondly from his childhood. And I loved it then, and I still do. So it should come as no surprise that My Baby Thinks She’s a Train was the first song I thought of when I saw this week’s theme.

Bonus Track:

Asleep at the Wheel: Choo Choo Ch‘boogie


Choo Choo Ch’boogie was actually a more popular song for Asleep at the Wheel than My Baby Thinks She’s a Train. And it is also a better example of the sound of western swing. But it’s more of a train station song.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Trains: Back On The Train

Phish: Back on the Train


A quick check in the archives shows that in almost a year of Star Maker Machine, I'm the first to post Phish. No apologies here -- I've been a fan of their studio work since my first show way back in 1991, when you could still get general admission seats and plop down in the third row right next to Jon Fishman's mother. I've kept up with them throughout the years via their studio output, and I've been waiting for the perfect opportunity to set the record straight.

So here it is: though they may have inherited their 'heads, in breadth and scope, skill and substance, on the record, Phish are nothing at all like their hippified live-band predecessors the Dead. Where Jerry and Co. were bluegrass and Blues, Phish starts with improvisational jazz and ironic post-rock and a huge snifter of silliness, ending up somewhere to the rockin' side of Bob Dorough. And this song is but one of many, from a plethora of genre stances from jazz noodling to rock jamming, which prove it.

Those expecting the stereotypical hippie jam may be surprised. This trainsong, from their last of seven career albums to go gold, is tight light alt-funk, a bit loose but perfectly radio-ready, catchy without a whiff of patchouli. Skip the concert, avoid the brown acid, stay home, and stock up of their recordings -- true Phishheads may disdain you, but I swear, you'll be happy you became a collector.

Trains: Freight Train

Heather Waters: Freight Train (Fred Eaglesmith cover)


Kasey Chambers: Freight Train (Fred Eaglesmith cover)


Fred Eaglesmith: Freight Train


A collaborative post today -- which may be a first here at Star Maker Machine. First, regular reader Dave writes in with a Fred Eaglesmith cover after my own heart:

Heather Waters first EP included a release of this great cover of a Fred Eaglesmith train song. Heather was living in Boston at the time and working with a bluegrass band. She then moved to Nashville and recorded a CD called Shadow of You. In 2008, she released a CD called Propeller, and it won my Zemmy Award for CD of the Year.

Being a coverfan, with Dave's permission, I'm matching his alt-country submission with this wonderful cover of the same tune from Australian folk strummer Kasey Chambers, which appeared on the bonus disk released alongside her 2000 breakthrough release The Captain. The approach to coverage is surprisingly similar, but Kasey's voice is a bit more ragged and breathy; this, plus a folk twang, makes for a complimentary pair.

And what would the coverage be without the original? Long-standing Canadian roots-folkie Fred Eaglesmith knows trains well: he's a self-professed hobo who sponsors an annual train ride with his fans where other artists book yearly cruises. He's also a sorely underrated songwriter and performer who, with this year's Juno nomination for best Roots and Traditional Album of the Year, is finally starting to get the credit he deserves after over a decade of local fame and increasingly broad coverage from his peers.

In his own hands, Freight Train is a perfect introduction, all speed and grit and rail, a train out of control. The 2002 live-album cover I've included here is the earliest in-print version of the song available that I could find for download (see comments), and like his paintings -- that's his depiction of a prairie train above -- the song is gorgeous and raw, feedback and all. Here's hoping we have plenty more opportunity to feature his work in the future.

Trains: Play a Train Song

Todd Snider: Play a Train Song


May I just tell you how much I love Todd Snider?!? - he's been one of my favorite singer-songwriters ever since I first heard his Talking Seattle Grunge Rock Blues, a hidden track on his Songs for the Daily Planet CD, waaaaay back in 1994.

He comes across as a stoner dude (could be some validity to that... :-) but his ability to memorize and play not only hundreds of his own songs but those of his heroes (Robert Earl Keen, John Prine and Bob Dylan among them) shows he's in full faculty of more brain cells than all his fans combined will ever lose. His tunes range from hysterical (Beer Run) to heart-wrenching (You Think You Know Somebody) - he's a consummate songwriter, clever without being predictable, educational without being preachy and emotional without being smarmy.

His way with a phrase is beyond brilliant ("I've always been afraid of a 12 step crowd, they laugh too much and talk too loud, like they all know where everyone should be"... "Got a lump on my head and a boot print on my chest from what the guys in here call the Tillamook County lie detector test"... "You know that was so underhanded, grabbing him just as you landed, after holding me the whole time you fell"... "Fighting for peace, that's like screaming for quiet") - for a while there, I used one of his lyrics to evaluate the people in my life ("you're either out of control or you're stuck"... :-)

I've seen him live a handful of times (he almost always plays barefoot), once at the 2001 Folk Alliance in Vancouver (I went to all his showcases) and on a few more occasions at The Bamboo Room here in South Florida, an intimate listening space which has unfortunately since closed down - I have his Vinyl Records T-shirt, his Peace Love Anarchy baseball cap (which Janis Ian commented on this past July at Falcon Ridge, saying she and Todd were e-mail buddies), every commercial CD he's ever released and quite a few bootlegs made available through his avid fanbase, a few DVDs... and countless memories of the joy his music has given me: priceless!

His website is newly re-done... and check out EighteenMinutes, a fan-driven site named for the monologue he usually does during his shows (“Some of it’s sad, some of it’s funny, and sometimes I’ll go on for as many as 18 minutes in between the songs.”) - Todd never fails to amaze... and challenge... and entertain!

Play a Train Song was written in honor and memory of Todd's friend and self-proclaimed mayor of East Nashville, Kenneth Francis “Skip” Litz, who yelled out his request for a train song at every live show he attended, told every woman he met how beautiful she was... and spent the last six months of his life as Snider’s tour manager before dying of cancer in July 2003...

In May 2007, Rich Willis, a creative and generous Todd-lister put together (and made available to the list) "Tales From Moondawg's Tavern, a compilation of Todd's stories [with the associated song] thru the years" (backstory here and download info here) - in Todd's own words, the scoop on Skip can be found on Disc 3, track 9 (I tried uploading, but I guess the 25-minute runtime was too much!).

As a consolation prize, here's a great YouTube video with an Uncle Skip visitation... :-)

For more Todd, here's a wonderful April 2007 interview by Frank Goodman of Puremusic...

Trains: Last Of The Steam Powered Trains

The Kinks: Last Of The Steam Powered Trains


“I’m the last of the good old renegades. My friends are all middle-classed and grey. But I live in a museum, so I’m O.K.”

This is another train-as-metaphor song. This time, the steam engine represents the notion of a old relic the has outlived its time. This track comes from The Kinks’ brilliant Village Green Preservation Society album, which may be the most backwards-looking pop album of the forward-looking 1960s. (Actually, The Band’s self-titled album probably takes the cake.)

Hope you like it.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Trains: If Love Was a Train

Michelle Shocked: If Love Was a Train


Ah, the train as metaphor - most of the time it symbolizes a journey, whether beginning or ending, embracing a new life or escaping from an old one.

In a spirited segue from Paul's previous post, Michelle Shocked uses train symbolism at its most primal... and joyful... and non-compartmentalizable - "If love was a train I think I would ride a slow one". I adore how the musicality supports the premise... and you can just hear the train chugging along, picking up speed and then puffing steamily into its destination - woo! woo! indeed...

Michelle's musical career was ignited by a bootleg recording made around a Kerrville Folk Festival campfire on a Sony Walkman. Released in England as The Texas Campfire Tapes without Shocked’s authority, its success abroad enticed Mercury Records to offer the newcomer a recording contract.

Short Sharp Shocked remains in my Top Ten CDs, with eleven insightful, infectious and insistent tunes celebrating life... and little death - I remain a lifelong fan, throughout her various multi-genred incarnations...

Trains: Love Like A Train

Giant Sand: Love Like A Train


Here’s a good one about how love can be like a train, among other things. I like the organ and funky guitar parts.

Giant Sand is a pretty interesting group to check out if you haven’t yet. This song comes from my favorite Giant Sand album, The Love Songs, released in 1988. It's a good place to start if you can find it, but right now it looks to be out of print.