LAST TRAIN HOME
"Last Good Kiss"
Last Train Home is back with a new record. The line-up of the band is a bit trimmed down though. There's still singer-songwriter Eric Brace (lead vocals, acoustic guitar), Jim Carson Gray (electric bass), Martin Lynds (drums, percussion, backing vocals) and Kevin Cordt (trumpet). New members are the Texan Steve Wedemeyer on electric, acoustic, baritone and 12-string guitar, he also wrote one of the songs, "Can't Come Undone". And Jen Gunderman, formerly in The Jayhawks, seen on European and American stages with Caitlin Cary. She plays keyboards, accordion and percussion, she also sings backgroundvocals. Guest musicians are Tom Mason, playing banjo on "You" and Claire Small, backing vocals on "The Color Blue". They're not based in Washington D.C. anymore, but in Nashville and they've been touring constantly. Last Train Home, named after a song Eric Brace wrote back in the 1980's, became one of America's most formidable roots bands!
They worked collaboratively on the new songs for "Last Good Kiss", with everyone contributing ideas and arrangements, as the info-sheet explains. This method of organically building the songs comes through in the recordings. You can hear the band members listening and creating on impulse, responding to each other in the studio, where most of the tracks were recorded live.
Well, I'm getting very curious now... The album opens with the title track. That's a very strong acoustic guitar part, right from the intro and throughout, while the accordion shows up later. Uptempo, with a surprising slow instrumental part halfway through. The new release of this CD on CoraZong Records, features the radio-edit of "Last Good Kiss" as one of the bonus-tracks. Guess what? There this interesting interlude is taken out! "Flood" features a lot of electric guitar. The ballad "Anywhere But Here" is definitely a prize track, my personal favorite. Beautiful, sensitively sung, Eric even does the falsetto thing!! The Wedemeyer written "Can't Come Undone" is just another guitarsong, until the accordion comes up strong and totally saves it from being average. Two stretched out songs that are quite a bit alike, form the heart of the album. "Go Now" is a pianosong with percussion and "May" fades in with drums and percussion, then it turns out this one has the electric guitar as the main instrument. Rhythmic "You" is quite uptempo and quite full with all the keys and electric guitar.
"I'm Coming Home" is a wonderful track, also rhythmic with the intro on acoustic guitar, then percussion follows, later joined by piano and a bit more. "Kissing Booth", yet another very strong offering. Some sort of soundscape, initialized by the accordion, forms the background, infectious, alluring, intriguing... Great lyrics too: "Where did the Summer go? / I'm still waiting on the afterglow / But time is a train on an endless track / A baggage coach painted black." Powerful! The strongest stuff is definitely to be found in the end here, as "Marking Time" comes up next. I always love intros played on acoustic guitar, building up to something more. Drums, even the shakers are important, Wurlitzer, electric guitar. Slow verses with a catchy, poppy chorus. Excellent! Last song is Latin, almost sounding like Eric's voice in another band! Trumpet, percussion and Claire Small on backing vocals.
The bonus-tracks! A.P. Carter's "Lover's Farewell" reworked in the old Last Train Home style, is definitely a pearl... Alan Brace still plays mandolin and does the harmony vocals here, there's something about brothers singing together! A gorgeous ballad. And a rousing version of "This Wheel's On Fire" follows, it's a duet with Alice Despard -who has the perfect voice to do this- and features also some accordion. Well-chosen extras!
So, what did I learn about one of my favorite bands? I suddenly noticed that something in the voice of Eric Brace, especially doing the slower songs, makes me think of Joseph Parsons. That's good, he's also a favorite. It's probably the timbre and the delivery. It's absolutely great, that Jen Gunderman joined the band. The accordion especially is a very nice addition. I'm a fan since I saw her years back, with Caitlin Cary -still unknown as a solo-artist- in a music store in Portland, Oregon. They were playing on some strange triangle-shaped balcony and Jen just blew me away... But I'm a lot less enthusiastic about Steve Wedemeyer, he may be good, but he'll never become one of my favorite guitarplayers, sorry. No comments on the acoustic guitar parts, although I like Eric's better, but the electric stuff is just too MUCH. When the first bonus-track started playing, it dawned on me what my problem is here: I miss some of the old musicians! Alan Brace in the first place, but also pedal steel player Dave Van Allen. I hope one day they'll get a couple of the old Last Train Home members AND more of the old magic back!
Written by Johanna J. Bodde, August 2007.
As always, Eric Brace included his interesting "Thoughts on the Songs"!
LAST GOOD KISS
I started playing this chord progression at a sound check while Last Train Home toured in Germany, October 2005, and Steve just started rocking out over it, and sounding amazing, so I knew it had to become a full song. It's about struggling with weakness to find your strength, and Steve's guitar underlines that. The title is taken from a great James Crumley novel. Check it out.
I wrote this a few years back, and we even recorded it during the "Time And Water" sessions, but it just didn't feel right so we left it off that record. That earlier version appeared on the benefit compilation, "Parkinsong Volume One: 38 songs of Hope" but this new recording is absolutely spot on. As a songwriter, this is one of the songs I'm most proud of.
ANYWHERE BUT HERE
Another one that started with just a strummed chord progression at a sound check sometime last year. I wrote it after a long stretch of listening to lots of Tom T. Hall records. I tried to channel him. Jen takes a Rhodes solo and plays so deliberately behind the beat; it's a masterpiece of time manipulation.
CAN'T COME UNDONE (Written by Stephen Wedemeyer)
We met Steve when he was asked by our label to be the opening act on our tour of Germany in late 2004. He played this, solo, on our first night there, and in our jet-lagged stupor we all looked at each other and thought: "This is good stuff." Back in the States, I called Steve at home in Austin and asked him to sing it to me over the phone so I could learn it. Not long after, we were asking Steve to join the band.
At first, all I had to this song were the first two lines. The lyrics told me it should be in 3/4 time, so I was messing around with some rowdy, Pogues-like waltzes, but it wasn't working out. I finished the lyrics the night before our last rehearsal before hitting the recording studio, and I still didn't have anything concrete about the arrangement, and barely had a melody and a chord change. At that final rehearsal, I played it for the band, winging some chord changes and the melody. We kept slowing it down and slowing it down and reworking the instrumentation until we got it to where it is here. Jen's solo at the end makes me cry.
This song started out much faster, and then turned into this slow elegy. At rehearsals, it never quite came together. We tried slowing it down, playing it like a half-time Neil Young song, all kinds of things. Then in the studio, when we were about to roll tape (or whatever they say in this digital age), and we thought we knew how we were going to do it, Martin started playing this slow groove, and we all just played along to it. We all kind of looked at each other and said, "Okay, let's try it this way instead." And we did. And that's what you hear. This is a meditation on the death of my father (he died May 19, 2004), and about the sad, fleeting nature of remembrance. Some of the words are his.
It's a love song, and I didn't even realize I was echoing The Beatles until I heard it on the radio: "It's getting better all the time..." This pop song seemed to cry out for horns and harmonies and such, and after we recorded them, we started listening hard, and during the mix-down, we just kept stripping it all away. We even took out my acoustic guitar. What we're left with is a recording as intimate as the sentiment of the lyrics.
I'M COMING HOME
Another love song, maybe the first honest one I've ever written. It's about becoming an adult in the best sense. It was so short, we just kept on playing that outtro. Jen created this lovely pattern that repeated and changed and built a beautiful happy ending.
This one started fast, a shuffle similar to "Last Good Kiss," but we took it down a different road, messing around with the rhythm and the vibe at rehearsals. Martin and Jim found this lilting groove and it fit the sentiment. A more abstract lyric than most of mine, I could connect the dots a little more clearly I suppose, but that wouldn't be any fun.
An older song that we completely revamped in rehearsals, tossing out a couple different bridges, and rocking it out harder. The second verse has some lyrics I stole from Shawn Colvin. Here's how: In Boston in the early '80s there was a folk music show on the Emerson College radio station, and I remembered hearing a song by a woman that had the lyrics, "sittin' in a bar and I'm almost broke, choking on emotion and cigarette smoke... I'm talking to you..." And I'd never heard of the singer, and I barely remembered that song, but years later that lyric came in my head and I shifted it around a little into what became the second verse of "Marking Time." I'd complete forgotten about my thievery, until one night I was doing a solo opener gig at the Black Cat in D.C. I was opening for Boston songstress Mary Lou Lord. By incredible coincidence, I opened my set with "Marking Time," and then she opened her set with "I'm Talking to You," by Shawn Colvin, talking first about what a huge influence Colvin was on her. I stood there watching Mary Lou sing, and I could hardly believe what I was hearing. So I apologise to Shawn for stealing her lyric, and I thank her at the same time. And I thank Mary Lou for singing it that night. And I thank LTH for bringing my version of that lyrics (and all my other lyrics) to life.
THE COLOR BLUE
"Last Train Home goes Tropicalia...?" With bongos and other Latin percussion, Kevin's gorgeous trumpet and Claire's airy vocals, it's another musical surprise. I brought this in to rehearsals as a strummy folkie thing, and the band turned it into this very cool tropical breeze. Two Nashville songwriting friends helped out: Thad Cockrell helped me chart a melody, and Colleen McFarland helped me tweak some lyrics. I like ending the album with this one... leaving the musical question, "what next?" hanging in the air somehow.
On the CoraZong edition of "Last Good Kiss" three bonus-tracks are featured.
"LOVER'S FAREWELL" (A.P. Carter), "THIS WHEEL'S ON FIRE" (Bob Dylan/Rick Danko) and "LAST GOOD KISS" (Radio Edit), the single version of the album's opening track.