[2 August 2007]
Should you require a great deal of flair and flash from your country-flavored rock and roll, you might want to look past Nashville’s (by way of Washington D.C.) Last Train Home. If bands which share similar musical heritage and practice are the aural equivalent of one of Nudie Cohn’s daring, bejeweled suits, then Last Train Home might be better described as having the qualities of a reliable, broken-in pair of cowboy boots. The band’s sound gives off the impression of having been a lot of places and endured many experiences, coming away with a mature, measured wisdom for all the miles traveled. Indeed, to overlook the music of Last Train Home, especially the quiet excellence of the their eighth and newest recording, Last Good Kiss, would be a definite shame; the richness and depth contained in the songwriting of frontman Eric Brace as well as the skill of the band members who support and give shape to his songs are not to be missed.
Actually, to call the band’s efforts on Last Good Kiss country rock (which is possibly the easiest, most catch-all classification possible for the band’s sound) is a bit of a stretch as, with the exception of a few selections, there is very little on the record that resembles “rock”. What is present, however, is a first-rate collection of moderately paced, rootsy gems and ballads imbued with blues, jazz, and folk sensibilities.
Providing the majority of rock and roll moments on the record, the album’s title track kicks off the proceedings with a wonderfully upbeat shuffle owing much of its energy to Brace’s acoustic strums and the infectious electric guitar of Steve Wedemeyer. Onetime Jayhawk Jen Gunderman’s subtle flourishes of accordion add substance and zest; the knitting of Gunderman’s sundry keyboard parts and the trumpet work of band member Kevin Cordt is a distinctive part of Last Train Home’s sound. Where other bands might just fall back on the volume of their guitars or the tightness of their grooves, the group is able to exhibit versatility without trying impress listeners with their virtuosity.
Several other melodic treasures appear in the early stages of the record: “Last Good Kiss” is immediately followed by “Flood” which employs bluesy guitar effects and Gunderman’s shining keys to support Brace’s sturdy, resolute chorus. Guitarist Wedemeyer’s lone songwriting contribution, “Can’t Come Undone”, as sung by Brace, exhibits just the slightest bit of attitude in the lyrics ” Hush your little mouth / My unsettled heart don’t sleep so well / Shouldn’t you be gone / I made it this far, I can’t turn around / Can’t come undone”.
In the heart of the album’s track sequence live the slow-to-medium tempo tracks which make up the majority of Last Good Kiss. One of the better track juxtapositions on the record positions the urbane, retro vibe of “You”, which puts a roots rock twist on the type of grand possibility pop explored by the Bacharachs of the world, next to the gradually building, gently ambling folk of “I’m Coming Home”, further giving evidence of the wealth of sounds and styles accessible at the band’s fingertips. The latter track musically parallels the image of sitting on a back porch somewhere in Kansas or Oklahoma, watching as a storm rolls in over the prairie, expecting the return of someone significant. As Brace sings “I’m coming home and it feels right / I’m coming home, be back tonight / I’m coming home with a heart wide open / I’m not scared anymore”, the listener knows the feeling of whomever is waiting for him.
Additional standout tracks include the album’s closing couplet, “Marking Time” and “The Color Blue”. The former is an earnest piece of moderately bluesy pop, while the latter retains a light, breezy feel featuring Cordt’s trumpet prominently and employing an exquisite assortment of exotic auxiliary percussion. These songs nicely round off the record and further the multi-level, layered aesthetic Last Train Home propagates throughout the record.
Were being solid, if not spectacular, substantive without being overly stylish an art form, Last Train Home would be the Van Goghs of said art form. Their blend of a genuine, straight ahead heartland sound and unexpected, artful musical ornaments proves a winning combination and marks Last Train Home as a band who merit keeping an eye on their progress and potential.