In my own estimation Last Train Home – as originally called, was a creative unit straddling the fence of The Band, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band & Moby Grape. When younger I bought their early CDs. It was reliable, the group always delivered, there was always interesting music on a Last Train Home LP.
Jan. 31st is the drop for the 14-track Eric Brace & Last Train Home LP – Daytime Highs & Overnight Lows, (Red Beet Records). This time 11 musicians & 3 guest musicians spin lots of well-greased wheels.
The sound is heavily laced with homegrown melodies & vocals. Virtually nothing is overcooked. “Sleepy Eyes,” starts. This is in a Nitty Gritty Dirt Band tradition. Lead vocalist Eric Brace plays acoustic guitar, aptly supported by many including female vocalist Lindsay Hayes. More country-flavored is the old-fashioned “Caney Fork,” a lullaby drive weaved tightly with Dave Van Allen pedal steel. It’s corny on the surface but it has bravado. The musicians are proficient. Brace sings in a style similar to The Rooftop Singers legend Erik Darling (“Walk Right In”).
“Distance & Time,” is rich — accordion & acoustic guitars sweet. This one’s memorable. The secret to these songs is the marvelous ensemble playing. Each musician except 1 or 2 plays more than one instrument. This widens the scope of possibilities.
The drawback despite good sound & showcase is that the only solid vibrant singer is Eric Brace – whereas The Band, The Beatles & Little Feat had many lead singers. This added to their diversity. Brace is capable but he’s alone. Quite a weight.
Maybe they’re not as rural as The Band, or as creative in their songwriting skills but that’s a minor issue. The band is tight & a well-oiled musical machine. The upbeat “Happy Is,” is wonderfully arranged. A favorite of mine. I have this on repeat. The band is so in tune, well-rehearsed, the interwoven playing is to be admired. It’s art. One listen to the flow of “Hudson River,” & Brace could almost remind you of The Band’s angelic voiced Richard Manuel. “Old Railroads,” maintains the atmosphere of The Band with elegance.
“B&O Man,” is more commercial but follows a faithful Woody Guthrie route. “Taking Trains,” has a nice Goose Creek Symphony feel – renders Last Train Home as an authentic roots-rock band.
The cast includes: Jared Bartlett (electric, acoustic & baritone guitar), Alan Brace (harmonica, vocals), Kevin Cordt (trumpet), Jim Gray (Bass, glockenspiel), Jen Gunderman (piano, organ, accordion), Martin Lynch (drums), Scott McKnight (electric & baritone guitars, organ, vocals), Chris Watling (tenor & baritone saxes), & Bill Williams (slide guitar, banjo, mandolin & vocals). Additional guests Thomm Jutz – acoustic guitar on “I Like You,” & Justin Moses – banjo on “Happy Is,” & “B&O Man”.
The 56-minute LP was produced by Jared Bartlett & Eric Brace. Available through Amazon Music.