America, the beautiful. Her landscape was forever changed by the emergence of the locomotive and we decided to pay tribute to a particular engine that now resides in Rolla, Mo., home of our R&D Brewpub. It was only fitting that the musical accompaniment pay tribute – not just to the engine itself – but to the themes of fortunes made, fortunes lost, love, greed, poverty, and the hardscrabble people who worked themselves to the bone to bring the marvel of mass transit to bear.
Some of the selections here are fairly straightforward with imagery of trains across the landscape. Some maybe less so. But when I play it back and enjoy the malt-forward and rustic hop deliciousness that is Frisco 1501 Historic Lager, I can see the train in my mind chugging across the landscape carrying people, cargo and the hope of a great future for a young, optimistic country. It may help to close your eyes a bit while you enjoy the taste, the sound and the total experience of Frisco 1501 Historic Lager.
And now, a bit about the featured artists …
I knew I could find a good balance of new and old for this playlist and still convey all the things I wanted to with it, and “Another Travelin’ Song” by Bright Eyes really nails it for me and sets the tone for the whole listen. Conor Oberst, mastermind behind Bright Eyes, effectively uses an acoustic shuffle that cements the rhythm while leaving enough space for the train-inspired electric. And while the music is upbeat, lyrically the song doesn’t shy away from the frustration of traveling, with dry observations of people in the throes of every kind of experience and emotion – from typical writers block to some of the more unsettling realities of modern life. There’s a lot going on in this track.
Johnny Cash sang a lot about traveling and a lot about trains. “Folsom Prison Blues” really would have been a no-brainer here, but I just didn’t feel like settling for the obvious. But I wanted some Cash on here. So I went with a track some old-school fans may not be familiar with from his American Recordings resurgence brought about by producer Rick Rubin in the late ‘90s/early ‘00s. For some reason Rick Rubin thought that Johnny could reinterpret Soundgarden’s 1991 hit “Rusty Cage” from the seminal classic “Badmotorfinger.” And he was right. Time would prove that the Cash-Rubin team would become quite adept at covering all manner of rock songs in such a way as to render them Johnny’s own. Many consider the greatest example of this is his cover of “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails. Anyway, like the original, Johnny’s version of Rusty Cage changes tempo and feel in the middle of the song to great effect, and somehow both rhythms just spoke “train” to me and that’s why I chose the track.
“City of New Orleans” by Arlo Guthrie was an easy choice. We’ve all heard it a million times, but it just feels right on this list. Also, it’s literally about a train ride from Chicago to New Orleans. Americana at its finest – nostalgic and bittersweet.
Like Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan also has plenty of material about trains. But there was something about the jangly rhythm of “Subterranean Homesick Blues” that made sense. The song is lyrically dense and touches on just about everything. It’s been covered and smothered but nothing beats the original. This song is a train that feels like it’s about the come off the rails. The engineer is smiling maniacally and is quite likely under the influence of … something.
Simon and Garfunkel have angelic harmonies. End of story. “Homeward Bound” (not to be confused with the live action Disney movie from back in the day) is a terrific traveling/homesick tune and the reference to the train station doesn’t hurt.
“John Henry,” is said to be based on a real person who may have worked as a “steel-driving man” – a man tasked with hammering a steel drill into rock to make holes for explosives to blast the rock for the construction of railroad tunnel. It’s been retold by many different artists, but it’s hard to beat Harry Belafonte’s smooth, soulful sendup. Close your eyes and listen to a master retelling of this timeless story.
There’s a lot I could say about progressive bluegrass titans Punch Brothers, but it’s much better if you just listen. “Rye Whiskey” is such a fun song and I defy you to keep from tapping your toes when this one comes on. As for trains, nah not really. But the old-timey rhythm makes me happy. As do the cool chord progressions. Thanks Thile & Co.
Patrick Carney’s big, fat, dirty drum sound sets the trudging tone of The Black Keys’ “When the Lights Go Out” to great effect and paves the way for Dan Auerbach’s strung out blues guitar. Recorded in an abandoned tire factory, this particular tune is striking for its unrelenting rhythm. All I can think about is the Frisco 1501 churning its way up an Ozark hill.
If you didn’t get Loretta Lynn’s “Van Lear Rose,” you missed out. She’s a legend. She’s tough as nails but demonstrates an earnest vulnerability on that record. Jack White produced and played on the album. It’s a curious pairing at a casual glance, but somehow the collaboration worked. “High on a Mountain Top” has southern roots bordering on gospel that will have you wanting to clap and sing along.
Monsters of Folk sort of came out of nowhere. A fun play on the “Monsters of Rock” hair band compilations once sold on TV (maybe they still are?), they are a modern supergroup of folk dudes who are each a kind of legend in their own right. Jim James, Mike Mogis, Conor Oberst and M. Ward first toured together and then after much planning and coordinating put out a record in 2009 to great acclaim. The li’l ditty featured here – “Baby Boomer” – has some fun, tongue-in-cheek, semi-scathing lyrics touching on commercialism, hypocrisy, and cool, ‘80s style greed. So you get a little cross generational ribbing set to an innocent, hand clappy, sizzle rhythm. Perfect combo.
Beck is a creative powerhouse. There’s no disputing that. Part of his genius is his uncanny ability to inhabit such an eclectic mix of styles – not as a visitor – but as a native. He’s equally as comfortable laying down ‘70s-style freak-out funk as he is living out his own version of the ‘60s singer-songwriter folk or trash-can-lid-white-boy-hip-hop. In “Farewell Ride,” he uses some carefully chosen pops and clinks –and a little harmonica – to paint a tumbleweed-laden landscape where all I can see is a chain gang driving spike after spike to lay track across the countryside. Extra: someone once set this song to a clip from the Paul Newman classic, “Cool Hand Luke.” It works pretty well. If you’re interested, you can check it out here: https://youtu.be/2z8HqqCyO9E
Split. Lip. Rayfield. What is there to say really? They’re awesome. And “Never Make it Home” conjures up all the right stuff. And that kazoo solo is dope!
I’m pretty sure “Casey Jones” has not a thing to do with trains. But Jerry sings the line “Riding that train high on cocaine.” So, there’s the token train reference. And it works here nicely.
The Statler Brothers, y’all. Country music’s most awarded act. They’re legendary. And so is this song. And I can tell you for a fact there is nothing in this song about trains. But the jingle-jangle feels right and I do like me some Statler Brothers. Also, um, Pulp Fiction. Enjoy.
Good lord people got burned out for real on Mumford and Sons. I can understand why, but upon revisiting their stuff, it’s still good music. It just got overplayed. They shot to fame with a rocket-like trajectory and seemed to leave the earth’s atmosphere and artistically are now stuck just shy of space where they weightlessly orbit the music biz. Until they come back down and complete a mandatory artistic reinvention boot camp, here is Marcus Mumford doing a Dylan song pretty sincerely as part of the “Another Day, Another Time” concert celebrating the music of the Coen Brothers “Inside Llewyn Davis.” If you love music and haven’t seen that movie just do it. I fell in love with it and bought the Criterion Collection. So worth it. Tons of musical talent in the film. Tons of acting talent. And the Coen Brothers once again made a fantastic piece of art that captures a ‘60s-era Greenwich Village folk singer’s painful odyssey towards inevitable quicksand. T Bone Burnett, the Rick Rubin-like shaman of musical preservation, produced the soundtrack and then decided they should put on a concert to celebrate the music highlighted in the film. Not long ago you could have watched the full concert on YouTube but now you have to pay. Because advertising. Because money. Money, money, money. But you can at least see the preview and decide if you want to see the whole thing: https://youtu.be/NyHraeDgZEc. It is a pretty fantastic concert and features a lot of stuff that isn’t in the film. Anyway, Mumford’s haunting rendition of “I Was Young When I Left Home” gave me chills. And in the context of our playlist here, I see this one taking place not on a train – but at the station – as he reflects on a journey that hasn’t gone quite as planned. Can you really go home?
Cracker doesn’t get enough credit or attention in my humble opinion. But they’re a band I really like and respect. They took the country rock thing, stomped it out like a cigarette butt, and just did whatever the hell they wanted to do. It’s a choice that narrowed their audience, but they have some stellar writing and musicianship that deserves respect. “The Golden Age” is really a love song. It’s reflective and introspective. And it’s just a pretty song to listen to. The strings soar. The steel guitar weeps. But what I get most from this song centers more on the theme of nostalgia and the romanticizing of the past that we all tend to do. We always look backward through rose-colored glasses and tell ourselves that that time – whatever it was – was a golden age of sorts. Oh, those were good times. It’ll never be like that again. It isn’t like it used to be. Etc, etc, etc. We hold on to that idyllic view of the past without realizing that right now is a golden age. Right now is the golden age you’ll pine for in the future. You’re going to look back at this exact moment in time and you may not want it back, you may not love every bit of it now, but you’ll remember it more fondly than today’s reality suggests. And you’ll say something predictably wistful like, “It isn’t like it used to be.” And at the core of it, that will hold some literal truth. But maybe you should just try recognizing the fact that you’re living in a golden age right now … whenever now happens to be.
Dave Van Ronk is said to be one of the inspirations for the character Llewyn Davis from the film mentioned two paragraphs up. He’s got an unmistakable voice and his fingers dance dynamically over the fretboard of his guitar in all of his songs. It’s just a true pleasure to listen to Dave Van Ronk. “Green, Green Rocky Road” is certainly a traveling song. Train or not, it found a home on the list here. If you like this, you’ll pretty much like everything he’s done. Check him out.
Close-out tracks are as tough as opening tracks – bookends to a good playlist. I was happy to land on this last one. Some refer to Sister Rosetta Tharpe as the Godmother of Rock & Roll. It’s not hard to see why. She was a talented, flamboyant guitarist who wasn’t afraid to take her music of light out into the darkness of secular clubs. “This Train” was her first big hit. Her career influenced gospel and secular artists alike. For many of us in Missouri who may have grown up attending small country churches, “This Train” will take you back for sure. Even though it traveled near and far, I like to think that the Frisco 1501 found its glory in Rolla, Missouri.
I hope anyone who reads this seeks out these songs if they don’t already have them and of course … enjoys a pint or five of Frisco 1501 Historic Lager!
As always, be safe, be responsible and be kind to each other. The golden age is now. A friend, a pint, a session, is what it’s all about. Cheers!
Listen to the playlist on Spotify (you must have an account – you can sign up for free):
- Bright Eyes – Another Travelin’ Song
- Johnny Cash – Rusty Cage
- Arlo Guthrie – City of New Orleans
- Bob Dylan – Subterranean Homesick Blues
- Simon & Garfunkel – Homeward Bound
- Harry Belafonte – John Henry
- Punch Brothers – Rye Whiskey
- The Black Keys – When the Lights Go Out
- Loretta Lynn – High on a Mountain Top
- Monsters of Folk – Baby Boomer
- Beck – Farewell Ride
- Split Lip Rayfield – Never Make it Home
- The Grateful Dead – Casey Jones
- The Statler Brothers – Flowers on the Wall
- Marcus Mumford – I Was Young When I Left Home
- Cracker – The Golden Age
- Dave Van Ronk – Green, Green Rocky Road
- Rosetta Tharpe – This Train
Mentions of any artists, living or dead, should not be construed as an endorsement by those artists of Public House Brewing Company products. We’re simply big fans. That’s all.