Thursday, June 5, 2014

Wyoming Jackson- Racing Coal Trains

Wyoming Jackson
Racing Coal Trains

Released: 2013

Full disclosure: This album has two things going against it right now. The first, and is entirely nothing Mr. Barnhardt could have helped, is that country music has been ruined for me by Ween's classic 12 Golden Country Greats. I cannot hear country music without it being filtered through their twisted take on the genre. Secondly, and this part was on him, his website already has synopsis's for most of the songs. This makes my job a bit harder, now I have to come up with different ways to describe the music that doesn't directly relate to his own words. I love a challenge, though, so here we go.

Racing Coal Trains jumps out of the gate with Hollywood Hotel Room, and a few things become apparent from the start. One is that this album is wonderfully produced by one Scott Gaeta from Music Factory Productions, every instrument is warm, clean and clear. Next, is that Rob Barnhardt's voice is a fairly plain, monotone that doesn't exactly radiate the emotion and depth needed for stirring country music. This leads to the next thing that becomes apparent, especially after a few more songs, there is a stark contrast between the music being played, the tone of voice, and the lyrics of the song.

Take for example Little Bill's Lament. It is a song titled after the Boogie Nights character of the same name, a man who is married to a porn star who is promiscuous both on and off screen. When he can't take her cheating anymore, he decides to shoot her, her lover (at the moment), and himself at a New Years party. This is a character arc that is designed to underline the seething desperation, violence, and darkness lying just underneath the surface of the seemingly happy porn family. The song plays like a Uncle Tupelo styled alt-country rocker about catching your wife sneaking some chocolate after you both swore to abide by the diet, no matter what. Hollywood Hotel Room also has that problem: it is a song about a man succumbing to alcoholism after the death of his lover, but the upbeat tempo and playful banjo keep the song from sinking too deep into the abyss.

Some of the other songs escape that issue by having female guest vocalists take over. For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn, named after the supposed Hemingway short story, gets the melancholy feeling right with an expressive turn by Amy Adams and some excellent fiddle work by Kurt Baumer. Erin Ann Scott stops by to add some real longing and desperation on the rodeo love song Cheyenne, Friday Night-- which has this great old school western feel to it. If a reality show about rodeo riders needs a theme song, this is it.

Genevieve Randall is the only female to appear on two songs: the love song Everything's Green/Oh Darling and Seven Years Ago, which could be taken as almost a pair if they weren't separated by three other songs. Everything's Green is a bubbly little bluegrassy number about making love to a woman during the springtime. The kind of lovemaking where you throw everything to the wind and just get down and dirty, preferably outside. The kind of love that might lead to a hasty marriage which would inevitably lead into the divorce described in Seven Years Ago-- which has some beautifully dense layering that is directly owed to Wilco (one of Rob's biggest influences), but again the dissonance between music and lyric.

In between those songs, though, you get Racing Coal Trains, which is a raucous little stomper about running your entire life in the red, until you find that special woman who can stop you in your tracks. Next would be the strangest song on the album: Suppose. This song is like nothing else and, upon first listen, will definitely make you do a double take. It is a deep, moody, disco influenced, AM gold dance number full of smokey atmosphere and a slinking guitar melody. The type of music at play here doesn't need the most insightful lyrics, and that works in its favor: it is all about the mood, and damn does it hit the mark.

Harvest Time, on the other hand, has the music and the lyrics, but Rob's voice can't sell the desperation and defiance needed to make the song work. But, Rob brings it all back with a goofy sci-fi influenced song about identity theft that might actually be perpetrated by an actual evil doppelganger. If nothing else, this song introduced the phrase, "Malevolent Duplicator" to my vocabulary, and I don't know why, but it always makes me smile.

Final Verdict:
Worth a Listen

Cheyenne, Friday Night
Eldon's Evil Twin

Low points:
Little Roundtop
Harvest Time

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