As much fun as being in a band with your friends is, sometimes you have to make that tough choice to walk away. Whether it’s career, family, lack of time or just plain burnout, at some point the fat lady sings and it’s time to put the guitars in their cases and say, “Smell ya later!” That may not have been exactly how things went down with Fort Wayne’s The Legendary Trainhoppers (I can’t imagine Matt Kelley quoting The Simpsons’ Nelson Muntz, but I’d pay good money to see and hear it), but the last time the Trainhoppers adorned a stage was 2007. Their swan song was covering Bob Dylan and the Band at Down The Line in 2007.
During that first run the guys released one album, Ramble On, a rustic and dusty collection of Americana and folk that was equal parts campfire songs and juke joint whiskey tunes. With a less than enjoyable time in the studio and life pulling the guys in different directions, the band left the Embassy stage thinking that would be the last time they’d play together. But sometimes things just happen. Sometimes out of the blue a phone call is made, a conversation is had, and those old feelings come bubbling back up.
That’s what happened with The Legendary Trainhoppers, sort of. A year ago a Trainhoppers reunion was a conversation between friends, and now, here we are a year later and that reunion album can soon be in your hands. It’s called Family Tree, and it’s a rip-roaring and dusty affair that is full of fun and good times from start to finish.
The album was recorded and self-produced by the Trainhoppers at One Lucky Guitar’s B-Side space, and that laid back feels comes through in the 13 tracks on Family Tree. Instrumental opener “Ol’ No. Nine” sounds like a dusty old field recording, captured in some work shanty. Guitar and mandolin meld seamlessly under the fidelity of what sounds like aged tape. Pretty soon “Keep a Light” comes roaring in like a beacon of weekend living, country jangle and shuffling drums as it brings to mind American Central Dust-era Son Volt. “Give Me A Call” is more countrified boogie, with a hint of Stones-y brand of boozy rock n’ roll. “My Come Monday” is a windswept ballad, complete with some great slide guitar and sweet harmonies. “I Don’t Do That Anymore” is a rumpus ode to leaving all those bad habits behind and gettin’ on with gettin’ on. This would’ve sounded just right on Wilco’s A.M., right next to “That’s Not The Issue”.
The Legendary Trainhoppers don’t sound like a band that got together after a nearly 10-year hiatus on Family Tree. They sound like a group of guys that have been at it for years. “Flow River Flow,” “Ramble On,” “I Got a Gal” and “Don’t Fade on Me” are songs made by a band in the throes of a musical rejuvenation, a band absolutely loving making music together, and it shows in each and every track. “Star Valley Honey” may not make a man hop a damn train, but The Legendary Trainhoppers will make you want to tap your feet and hum along. (John Hubner)