Bound Away - a great piece of work
By Chris Cooper
Eric Brace writes damn fine songs. His band Last Train Home plays these songs pretty damn well, too. Heck, Mr. Brace does some great stuff with the songs he didn't write, as well. Bound Away is such a good listen that I've had a bit of trouble finding a way to start the review, so let's just leave it at this: go buy it and enjoy it.
In the wake of Wilco, the Jayhawks, Son Volt and the whole alt-country explosion of the last decade, there's been some wonderful and some not-so-wonderful music made. Artists that had been doing this the whole time (Duane Jarvis, Neko Case and Two Dollar Pistols come to mind) began receiving much deserved credit, while some got more praise and recognition than they may have deserved. Not the case with these guys. Last Train Home formed officially in 1997, after singer/songwriter/guitarist Eric Brace had spent years in various bluegrass, pop and rock groups. It was time well spent, as the inevitable musical connections formed in this time would give birth to the first incarnation of the band, opening for the Waco Brothers at the Black Cat in Washington, D.C.
This little bit of background is thrown in mainly for the purposes of name- dropping for the curious, and to illustrate an important reality: bands don't just appear neatly packaged from out of nowhere. Even those that exist just under the national radar have worked for years honing their craft in the studio and in clubs around the country. And from the opening track Marlene on Bound Away, Brace and company's grace, confidence and work are smack-you-in-the-face obvious. It's a perfectly timed slice of country pop that pokes its head up and disappears long before wearing out its welcome. Dogs on the East Side wraps a Tom Waits-styled backdrop of wiggly organ and gritty drums, along with some beautifully understated Chet Baker-ish trumpet, around appropriately moody lyrics and melody.
Hendersonville... jeez. Yes, it's said to have been written after Brace's visit to the grave of Johnny Cash. Whether you know that or not, the song will pretty well just pull your heart out. Pete Finney's pedal steel break on this tune is one of the most gorgeous things committed to tape. Ever. In fact, the ten musicians that comprise Last Train Home are all perfectly cast in every song, each voice providing something unique. Jared Bartlett's layered electric guitar outro on Hendersonville, crunchy fills throughout the Dylan cover Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You and ultra tasteful work in To Her Door are perfect examples of song-conscious playing. Besides, the guy also engineered and mixed the whole thing.
The album closer and title track, Bound Away is yet another pleasant surprise, and once you realize it's going to be an instrumental track, even more enjoyable. Jeff Lang's echo laden, verging on feedback guitar work is just killer, and as a whole the song has a fragility and power that closes the album in such a beautiful way. It may be necessary to categorize music, and that's fine. But it is nice to here something every now and again that transcends genre boundaries and stands on its own as simply a great piece of work. Bound Away does so effortlessly. And if you miss these guys in an intimate setting like Westville Pub in Asheville on Nov. 17, you're absolutely nuts.
Without a doubt, 5 stars.