Six Years Old School Freight Train
If Old School Freight Train sounded like a young band playing well beyond their years on 2005’s Run, then their new release, Six Years, finds them playing beyond any tag that’s attempted to confine them since then. To this day, the members of Old School Freight Train are quick to tip the hat to David “Dawg” Grisman as a mentor, friend, and inspiration, but their new album finds them making their own brand of music. Oh, don’t worry if you liked their earlier efforts, there’s nothing here that’s going to scare you. But whereas the Grisman-produced Run offered up a string band (guitar, bass, fiddle, mandolin, and banjo) that comfortably wore the “jamgrass” label, Six Years finds OSFT with a firm grip on their own kind of sound. Not really jamgrass; not really “Dawg” music this is the kind of stuff that could keep these guys around for a while. There are plenty of hooks here without ever sounding poppy; you’ll find yourself humming choruses off Six Years within a listen or two, wondering how they got into your head so quickly.
One big step in the evolution of Old School’s sound is the addition of drummer Nick Falk. Bringing a jazz-based background to the Train, Falk’s presence is felt throughout the album locking in perfectly with bassist Darrell Muller and laying down a solid foundation that allows the guitar, mando and fiddle to explore the far reaches of the melody at hand. (Try the left-elbow-out-the-driver’s-side-window cool nod of “Let Me Go” or the rhythmic fury of the title track – think Police without the ego.) On “Wake Up,” Falk and Muller propel the song along the track as Jesse Harper belts out the vocal in between flutters of notes from Pete Frostic’s mando. Nate Leath jumps on board big time with his fiddle after the last chorus, taking things out with a whirling dervish that promises even greater things in a live setting. In fact, many of Six Years’ cuts are easy to imagine jammed-out on stage, but make no mistake about: these are songs, first and foremost.
Other highlights include the frontrunner so far for “Unlikely Cover of the Year”: if you enjoyed OSFT’s take on Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” on Run, then you’ll probably really get a kick out of the new album’s opener, a version of Blondie’s “Heart Of Glass.” Don’t even try to imagine it (guitarist/vocalist Jesse Harper reportedly ambushed his bandmates with “Heart” during a practice session and even they didn’t realize what it was until they were partway through it) just listen. (And don’t be frightened.)
Jesse Harper’s “Memphis” sounds like a sweet cousin of Dickie Betts’ “Blue Sky” (and that’s a good thing) with Nate Leath’s fiddle making you feel like your sweetheart just kissed you on a sunny Sunday morning. Muller’s swooping bass lines provide the underpinnings for “Get Down” the song’s rhythmic changes could feel harsh in lesser hands; here, they provide the story line that Harper, Frostic, and Leath can weave over and they do it well.
Welcome to the new Old School Freight Train they still sound like themselves; they’re just getting better with time.