Tractor Kings: Gone to Heaven

[18 September 2003]

By Jason MacNeil

There shall be another fine band in alt.country or Americana circles, and that band is by far the Tractor Kings. Resembling an early and pre-accident Dylan mixed with Wilco, lead singer Jacob Fleischli shines on the title track, an alt.country gem containing Dylan’s twang—so much so that it makes one ask if it’s the real legend or not. R.M. Racky’s pedal steel guitar is integral to the tune’s flow and direction as the tune talks about getting something one needs. It also contains a great sway thanks to some fine harmonica playing. “Side by Side” has that train-rolling Travelling Wilburys tempo to it, except it’s basically only a third of the way finished by the time it actually finishes.

“Take Me Back” has enough guitar feedback to bring Wilco to mind circa Summerteeth, particularly “Via Chicago”. The Tweedy-cum-Westerberg feeling resembles a night on the town and coming back with this hazy tune in your head. “If you were any younger you wouldn’t know me at all / I climbed up your tree is all I got to see”, the song goes as the acoustic guitar is constantly strummed like early ‘60s folk songs. Fleischli is the real deal here and one can discern this early and often. The polka-tempo to “Buried in the Sky” is an eclectic experiment that at times goes off into a bland bar band feel early on. But the Velvet Underground-meets-Johnny Cash arrangement is a fine meshing of influences. It’s one of the many highlights on this record, though, despite it’s rough opening. “Was I your friend for just a while / You know you make me wanna die”, he sings as ethereal organs or strings can be heard in the distance.

“My Little Cousin” works a wonderful guitar path, making the listener wonder why they haven’t heard of the band prior or this gorgeous tune. The jangle of the guitar resembles the late ‘60s and the Velvets as Fleschli sings, “that poor little fellow meant so much to me”. The bridge is just as solid, although it ebbs back a bit to bring Blue Rodeo to mind. “Little Moses” is eerily Dylan-esque, recalling possibly “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall”. The Biblical references and the turns of phrase have to be the song’s selling point by far. It also possesses that Irish or Celtic toe-tapping nature deep within it. It’s the type of tune you might find yourself replaying just prior to its conclusion (as I’ve done on a few occasions). “Never Lonely” only ups the musical ante, a blending of old-time ‘50s country, yet with the guitar riffs of most Americana groups. This is probably proof that The Tractor Kings are the real deal—a mix of alt. country but with enough hooks and catches to grab any listener of the genre in their fine web.

“Goodnight” is probably the record’s only mistake, but not because of its quality. The murky and dark country sound is perfect for the ending, bringing to mind some Replacement albums, particularly All Shook Down. The guitars get a little ornery around the two-minute mark, but it’s not to the point of distortion or annoyance. “I’m free up on my hill”, Fleschli sings as the ‘50s-style guitar weaves in and out of the lovable tune. The closing “My Old Ways Are Gone” opens with some spacey and ambient Eno-like affects. It could be mistaken for Eno’s contribution to the soundtrack for the motion picture Trainspotting early on before the vocals make their mark. This album restores your faith that music can still be made without suits being involved.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/tractorkings-gonetoheaven/