Eric Brace & Last Train Home
Daytime Highs & Overnight Lows
Red Beet Records
More than a decade after their previous release, a six-song EP of covers, Americana group Last Train Home returns with a compelling, and majestic collection of new music.
Previous albums, from their impressive, self-titled debut through 2007’s Last Good Kiss provided attuned listeners opportunity to witness the marvelous music created by the (originally) Washington, DC-based band fronted by Eric Brace. With Brace busy charting a rootsy, singer-songwriter course with Peter Cooper, Thomm Jutz, and others, producing, and operating a boutique label (Red Beet), most of us presumed we had heard the last from the rather large ensemble. Brace thought the same.
There was the occasional reunion gig, and when a favoured DC music spot was closing a couple years back, the band reformed for additional performances. And the idea of reforming to create another album began to take shape. Frankensteined across a number of sessions in various studios and cities, Daytime Highs & Overnight Lows came to fruition.
Did it ever.
Each of Last Train Home’s albums have something to offer. All are good, a couple great. I can listen to each of them just about any time, and have spent weekends when I’ve listened to little else. This new one? Yet another level.
Tendrils of connection to the band’s past flow through the album. “Old Railroads,” “Hudson River,” and “Floodplains” were written by friends or former bandmembers, “Sleepy Eyes” comes from Frog Holler, a band LTH once played with. “Happy Is” and “Dear Lorraine” are songs the band had previously attempted, set aside until time was right to complete them. “Wake Up, We’re In Love” is a co-write Brace had forgotten he contributed to, while “Sailor” and “B&O Man” appeared on Brace/Cooper (and Jutz) recordings. There’s a Barry White song, and who doesn’t need an Americana band playing a spirited, yacht rock rendition of “What Am I Gonna Do With You”?
This is an album created by and for people who know each other, who have stuck together—even when apart—since their formative days. Eric Brace (acoustic and lead vocals), Bill Williams (guitars, banjo, mandolin, vocals), Martin Lynds (drums), Jim Gray (bass, glockenspiel), David Van Allen (pedal steel), and Alan Brace (harmonica, vocals) go back to that original eponymous recording. Jared Bartlett (guitars), Kevin Cordt (trumpet), Scott McKnight (even more guitar, organ, vocals), Jen Gunderman (piano, organ, accordion), and Chris Watling (saxophones) are also familiar to the LTH collective, with Justin Moses contributing additional 5-string, Lindsay Hayes offering harmony vocal, and Jutz a bit more guitar to “I Like You.” Together, they connect with their maturing audience, contributing moments and songs that resonate with rare immediacy. Every performance is a master class, an exemplar: this is how it’s done.
“I’d miss my home place, I’d miss my sweet life, If I was far away from where I was,” Brace sings to open the album and “Sleepy Eyes.” A love song to place, perhaps to shambolic memory, it is an ideal introduction to an album that takes us on a lyrical, flowing journey without predetermined destination.
Andrew Wiscombe’s recent A Greene Street Manifesto comes to mind, as do several Ian Tamblyn performances, but Brace has been at this long enough, as have his colleagues, that comparisons are likely unfair if necessary. How many of us know Last Train Home’s music? No idea, but I am confident it isn’t as many as who should.
Americana music has been built on memory, on trains, rivers, and relationships put through unfair examination. Daytime Highs & Overnight Lows has all of this, and fabulous horn accoutrements besides.
Words of Everyman, looking for comfort, for a place to belong, and someone to share it with: “I can’t tell which way the wind blows, please don’t say ‘That’s how it goes.’ It’s gone. Got a suitcase full of my regrets, and it goes where I go. We say our goodbyes from a distant state, the path of least resistance—find a way, get away, hide from the pain,” Brace sings within “Happy Is,” the deceptively upbeat song giving this album its title.
Last Train Home’s best album? I think so. It feels entirely familiar and completely fresh, an unexpected renewal, as pleasant (and unforeseen) as Pete and Roger’s latest. Who knew? Eric Brace and Last Train Home knew.
Good thing they did.