Trains, trains, and more trains dominate the entire sixth recording from the High 48s, and why not? Trains have a strong hold on our music and our collective memory, even as they have less physical presence for us today. Interestingly, of the ten songs here, only a couple—the modern ballad “Baltimore And Ohio” and Greg Brown’s raucous “Grand Junction”—are affectionate odes to railroading itself. You could throw banjoist Anthony Ihrig’s original “Great Northern Railroad” in there, but it’s really more a tune about the hard life working the line, characterized by the idea that he hopes his kids don’t have to work like this.
For the rest, the railroad is more a symbol. In “The Leavin’ Train,” it’s a symbol for escape or a better day. In “The Train Carrying Jimmie Rodgers Home,” it symbolizes Rodgers himself. Elsewhere, it’s a symbol for leaving a loved one behind (“Smoke Along The Track” and “That Train Has Left The Station”) or for a longed-for past (“With A Memory Like Mine”).
Regardless of the meaning, the quality of the music here is very good—both the compositions and the execution. To each song, the High 48s bring an evenhanded approach, even on those that have a rowdy nature, such as “Grand Junction” and the Jimmy Martin-style arrangement of “Smoke Along The Track.” Solos, particularly those of Marty Marrone’s guitar and those featuring the rounded tone of Ihrig’s banjo, are clear and creative, and the vocals are as well. The song choices are nicely varied and well-suited to Marrone’s voice, which leads all but four tracks. He’s at his best on “The Leavin’ Train.” Other highlights on this enjoyable recording include the traditional 3/4 blues of “Two Trains Runnin’,” “Smoke Along The Track,” and most especially, “The Train Carrying Jimmie Rodgers Home,” a minor classic performed here in high fashion. (www.thehigh48s.com)BW