First Appeared in The Music Box, December 1998, Volume 5, #12
Written by John Metzger
Train's self-titled debut, which was released by Aware Records earlier this year, is one of those discs that seems to improve with age. The powerful vocal presence of singer Pat Monahan combines perfectly with the band's infectious melodies. Together, they unite to create gripping, yet radio-friendly, roots-rock anthems.
Train began as a duo and was formed in San Francisco in 1994 by Monahan and guitarist Rob Hotchkiss. Since then, the band has expanded with the addition of guitarist Jimmy Stafford, bassist Charlie Colin, and drummer Scott Underwood. The quintet quickly became a staple on the Northern California music circuit and garnered enough attention to land opening sets for Cracker in San Francisco, Blues Traveler in Berkeley, and the Neville Brothers in Chicago and Los Angeles.
It certainly doesn't hurt for a young band to have a little help from its friends on its debut disc. In Train's case, Counting Crows' guitarist David Bryson was hired to mix the album, which also features the Crows' Charlie Gillingham on keyboards. Given their presence, it's not surprising that Train approaches its music with a Counting Crows-like, guitar-driven sound, while also drawing liberally from the songs of Blind Melon. Yet, the group manages to add enough of its own personality to make its endeavor worth seeking out.
The irresistible songs run the gamut from the bubbly groove of Meet Virginia to the raging bombast of If You Leave to the quietly introspective Blind. Throughout self-titled affair, Monahan carries the songs with his passionate vocal delivery, but the rest of Train magically rises to each occasion with music that effortlessly matches and complements the mood.
Homesick begins as a lonely Joni Mitchell-style folk song before it is transformed into an aching anthem that pleads for forgiveness. The beautiful ballad Blind blends the folk music of Tracy Chapman with the Counting Crows' Anna Begins. Shimmering guitar chords rake a dark, blues-influenced landscape on Idaho, and Southern rock comes to the forefront on Free, as sleek guitar lines ride upon a bounding bass rhythm, only to coalesce in the song's thunderous chorus.
Train's eponymous outing is quite an impressive debut; it is filled with songs that will seem familiar from the moment that they first are heard. Yet, each meticulously-crafted track contains plenty of rewards that will quickly reveal themselves even as the grooves become implanted in your brain. Train is certainly a band to keep an eye on as its songs carefully walk the fine line between being radio-friendly and respectable. ½
Train is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 1998 The Music Box