Steel Train

Steel Train

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Equal parts rock, country, bluegrass, Latin, funk and jam, Steel Train is a band that gives full vent to every musical impulse in their collective souls. Steel Train’s music is marked by exquisite guitar work and sweetly insightful lyrics.

Biography

"Just be yourself." It's the most over-prescribed cheap advice of the modern age. But who actually follows it? For their part, the members of Steel Train have no choice but to be themselves, however many selves that is. Equal parts rock, country, bluegrass, Latin, funk and jam, Steel Train gives full vent to every musical impulse in their collective souls. With their spectacular full-length album debut on Drive-Thru Records Twilight Tales From The Prairies Of The Sun, the New York-based quintet makes eclecticism respectable again.

Teaming up with Producer Stephen Barncard (The Grateful Dead, Joe Cocker, and Crosby, Stills and Nash), the guys headed out to the famed bay area studio, Prairie Sun, a 14-acre open-air ranch. "We went out there with a vision" notes guitarist Matthew Goldman, "yet when we arrived that vision became so much more clear." The new album includes a generous 67 minutes of music. "If people pay $15 for a CD, we'll put out as much as we can," says vocalist/guitarist Jack Antonoff. "We were two minutes shy of making a double-CD."

Twilight Tales From The Prairies Of The Sun boasts guest performances by a pair of living legends: mandolinist David Grisman and pedal steel pioneer Gene Parsons. Grisman, creator of "Dawg" music and member of the Grateful Dead family hadn't worked with Barncard since collaborating on the Grateful Dead's masterpiece American Beauty. Amazingly, Grisman played the very same mandolin he had used 32 years prior on the classic Dead tracks. Parsons, member of the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers spent time with Steel Train on the ranch, laying down parts for the country ballads "Dig" and "Blue."

The album kicks off with "Better Love," an upbeat acoustic bitter-sweet love song. Country overtones grace songs like "Catch You on the Other Side" and "Dig," while tracks like "Two O'clock," "Gypsy Waves," and "Trical Jam" play up funk and Latin influences, particularly early Santana on the latter tune. Other songs are more subdued and reflective, like the haunting track "Grace," Antonoff's personal favorite. "It's an image of what it's like to be at a funeral," he says of the tune. "I wanted people to feel the coffin lowered into the ground. It captures a lot of anger and bitterness, and recording it was one of the deepest experiences I ever had.

Antonoff wrote "Grace" and "Catch You on the Other Side" in response to the death of his sister. "She died just last year, then a cousin of mine was killed in Iraq. This record is a vision of all these things that have happened." Others, like "Blue," "Tickle Your Toes," and the austere "Cellophane and Glass" chart the course of a heated romance and an ice-cold break-up. The final track "I Will Stay" is a simple ballad of airy harmonies and steel-string purity.

The Steel Train story began over three years ago when New Jersey native Antonoff, a budding songwriter who idolized Dylan, Crosby Stills and Nash, and the Beatles, would entertain high school classmates during lunch hour. Everything changed when he met Harlem-born Scott Irby-Ranniar, who had been singing professionally since age two, having starred as Simba in the Broadway production of the Lion King. The two became friends and colleagues, practicing whenever they could.

A demo or two later, they caught the attention of Drive-Thru Records. "It was the obvious choice," says Scott. "Drive-Thru was the only label that told us if we were making the music we loved, they would put out our records." Soon after this, they began jamming with bassist Evan Winiker, the trio then traveled to the West Coast where they met future drummer Matthias Gruber. Arriving back in New York, the quartet contacted an old friend whose house had just burned down, Matthew Goldman, and asked him to round out the lineup.

Their first Drive-Thru EP, For You My Dear, was released in January 2003, and began six months of touring across America and Europe, giving Steel Train the chance to play with The Crystal Method, Robert Randolph, Blackalicious, Idylwild, Something Corporate, Finch, and many other musicians. Later that year Steel Train released their second EP, 1969. Produced by the band with Jon Naclerio, the EP gave the guys a chance to show their fans the roots of their sound.

With the album now finished, Steel Train are satisfied they made a record that can stand the test of time. "Our goal for the album," says Antonoff, "was to make a record that would last beyond our years." As Twilight Tales From The Prairies Of The Sun proves, sometimes it's possible to claim “Mission Accomplished” and mean it.

Discography

For You My Dear EP 2003
1969 EP 2003
Twilight Tales From The Prairies Of The Sun 2005