Last Train Home won first-place honors at last year's Wammies, Washington's annual music awards ceremony, when the band's self-titled debut album won as best country recording. Now comes the local sextet's follow-up, "True North" (Adult Swim), another impressive collection of songs inspired by simple joys and deep, lasting wounds. In true honky-tonk fashion, though, the sad ones outnumber the glad ones.
And a good thing, too, since lead singer and songwriter Eric Brace, who writes the Nightlife column for this newspaper, is never better than when he's trying to make sense of slowly unraveling or recently severed relationships. The album's opening track, Scott McKnight's brooding ballad "All Eyes Go," seems tailor-made for the soulful weariness Brace's voice projects when he delivers the line "I won't pretend, it's harder than hell to tell what you're telling me/ Reading in between what you say when you say what you say."
The emotions grow even darker on the Carter Family tune "Lover's Farewell," with its unforgiving refrain--"you have proved to me false-hearted/ You may now forever go"--and carry over to the album's poignant title track. The latter song, one of Brace's best ballads, begins with a line that succinctly sets the stage for a well-crafted narrative lament. "The date was set, still she couldn't see/ Waking up beside him every day for the rest of her life."
By the time the band gets around to reprising Buck Owens's "Heartbreak Mountain," the emotional currents have taken on a swirling honky-tonk momentum as Brace echoes Owens's classic refrain "I'm going up on heartbreak mountain/ Because I've lost my will to live."
Not to worry, though. The group's fondness for sad songs doesn't obscure the delight it takes in serving up dreamy confections, such as the Krispy Kreme-inspired "Doughnut Girl" or even a tune with a happy ending, such as "Finally." And certainly not least of the album's pleasures is hearing the band neatly wrap these songs in shimmering tones and woven textures that evoke much of the history of country music. Last Train Home performs at the Iota Club Friday and Saturday.
(To hear a Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8171.)