Ramble On
The Legendary Trainhoppers

by Jason Hoffman Ramble On
Take members from four prominent Fort Wayne bands, stir them together with a bit of history, add a pinch of good-natured humor and you have The Legendary Trainhoppers. The roster of this “new” band reads like a Whammys presentation: Chris Dodds and Matt Kelley from Go Dog Go; Jon Ross from Definitely Gary; Dan Smith, Damian Miller and Phil Potts from Brown Bottle Band; and Matt Sturm from himself.

The Trainhoppers jump off Ramble On to a great start with “I’m Not Waiting,” a bright spring promise of a song that still bears memories of winter’s cruel chill. The peppy beat and chiming guitars inspire hope, and the clear vocals set to a catchy melody will surely stick in your craw for days to come. “Cannonball” falls into a similar indie-rock sound with passionate vocals and careening, pulse-quickening rock riffs.

The band reworks several songs by Go Dog Go to great end. “All That Lonely” is a great rock song with tasty vocal harmonies that should shoot right up the charts, while the melancholic “Sleeping Pills” offsets lyrics of rejection with a cheery beat. “Roll To Jesus” is a superb example of their vaguely country-ish sound with a hint of twang, slide guitar and soothing mandolin, culminating with four-part vocal harmonies in a round.

Other songs reveal the playful side of this band. “Alcohol” is a rowdy ode to fermentation with an old-timey slap beat and ultra-high-pitched slide guitar solo, where the off-kilter foot stomper “Not Amused,” with its slight horn accents and accordion take a page from the Squirrel Nut Zippers. “C-Minor Skeleton Walk Blues” goes further back, presenting a 1920s sound of brushed drums, muted horns and an intimation of Tom Waits to make a wonderful song.

The band zooms up to the 60s with “Let’s Be Friends,” featuring loads of 60s vocal harmonies and a squeaky clean pop melody that would make The Spongetones proud. The fitting final track, “Don’t Let the Door Hitcha In The Backside (When You Walk Away)” combines humor and country, imagining all the tragedies that could befall a wayward lover and set to a plucky, harmony-filled, twang-laden ditty that is over before the screen door can slam shut.

Possibly the best track, and the reason for the band, is “The Banks of the Cumberland.” Inspired by a photo of his great-grandfather, Matt Kelley dug through family history and discovered the story of his grandfather hopping trains and meeting his future wife, who worked as an elevator operator at the Indiana Hotel. This song starts with rich two-part vocal harmony and then breaks into a jaunty rock rhythm that would make The Why Store proud, continuing on to tell grandpa’s life story from his own point of view. The result is both epic and heartwarmingly personal.

The Legendary Trainhoppers usher in the official release of Ramble On by appropriately playing two all-ages shows at the Indiana Hotel Lobby on February 3 (6:45 and 9 p.m.). Your cover charge includes a copy of this excellent album which was produced by Grammy winner Scott Mathews. One listen to Ramble On and you’ll agree that this is some of the finest music Fort Wayne has to offer.

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