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Chicago, Illinois, United States | SELF

Chicago, Illinois, United States | SELF
Band Rock Acoustic




"Album Review: Twinray - The Train You're On"

Artist: Twinray
Album: The Train You’re On
Review by Sarah Whited

Desiree Irwin and Mike Poupko, the dual spotlights of talent that make Twinray, have created a
mature, polished bluesy singer-songwriter album with clean guitar lines and a wholesome rural
feel. Irwin’s background as a farm girl in Canada shines through in the honest, heartfelt lyrics.
Alternating between melancholy and sassy, Irwin pours herself into the emotion-laden vocals.
Her tone is strong and throaty without strain, clear yet thick, like sparkling white chocolate.
Her accuracy as a vocalist shines through on “Twisted” as she deftly jumps fifths and sixths,
effortlessly switching in and out of her pure falsetto. Poupko uses sweetly balanced acoustic
and light electric guitar lines for an unusually delicate touch. Orchestrated strings, such as
the ensemble that carries “You Can’t be Found,” add to the sugary impression of this album.
Church-organ lines and full choir backup singers reinforce the gospel blues that pepper these
selections, while light rock and country influences add twang and character, giving the album
a homemade feel despite the studio production quality. Throughout The Train You’re On,
producer/engineer Sean O’Keefe has melded the haunting background vocals, touching piano
lines, and crystalline acoustic stereo production that characterized his Plain White T’s album.
Overall, this album is like five-star rhubarb pie: sweet, tangy, and highly palatable, a professional
production of a genuine down-home treat.

The album starts off with “Do You Wanna Go,” a sassy little number with rock and funk
influences. Organ and brass instrumentation pair with upbeat electric solos on the chorus ends
and bridge for a head-bobbing, energetic kick-off. Irwin’s strong vocals remind one of a polished
Sheryl Crow, especially when followed by the soloing distortion guitar. This piece is the perfect
opener for the album because of its catchy attitude and easily sung chorus. It grabs the ear,
invites one to get up off the couch and move, and begs one to sing along. Because the rest of
the album is more subdued, this introductory piece helps rope the listener in before delving
into the depths of Irwin’s emotions. “Every Day” employs echoing steel guitars behind bright
acoustic strums in typically country chord changes and instrumentation. Brushed drums with a
steady hi-hat beat and tambourine bring to mind a train making its way across the prairie. The
major chord changes and uplifting words give the impression of sunny days on the porch swing,
echoing Irwin’s sentiment that “you rise just like the sun does every day.” This song is rural and
easygoing without being Southern in any specific manner.

“Who Do You Think You Are” echoes a common resentment of egomaniacs, paired with a
hidden attraction to the same self-assurance that repulses. Despite this tune’s strong emotions,
edgy guitar lines, and tongue-in-cheek lyrics, Irwin’s vocals sound slightly forced, and the
country slide between notes doesn’t seem to suit her highly accurate and targeted style. This
same forced-slide quality also appears in the ballad “Crazy In My Mind,” and does her no favors.

Coming back to her true voice later in the album, Irwin shines in “You Can’t be Found.”
Touching, gentle, and repentant, this selection lays bare Irwin’s soul. A chorus of layered
pizzicato over legato strings swells as the song progresses, while piano lines carry throughout.
Despite the deeply emotional content and theme, Irwin’s voice comes off as strong and genuine
instead of whiny or childish, as many females are prone to do. O’Keefe’s production skills
shine during this dynamic selection, and each instrument or group of instruments is highlighted
without overshadowing the vocals or creating too large of a dynamic range for a single song.
“Twisted” pairs train track drums and wistful slide guitar with glamorous lyrics about an
enchanting socialite, making a winning combination. The underlying layer of desperation in the
mature lyrics gives the song depth, while haunting guitar solos enhance the ethereal air of this
piece. This song showcases Irwin’s vocals like none other on the album. Her accuracy and purity
of tone, coupled with her incredible enunciation, make this the crowning jewel of The Train
You’re On.

Like the irresistible combination of sweet and sour lemon meringue, this album swirls together
urban and contemporary elements with time-tested blues and country flavors. Despite its
sweetness, The Train You’re On has lyrics of real substance and will appeal to almost any
musical palate.

Review by Sarah Whited
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5) - Review You

"Twinray - The Train You're On (2010)"

Artist: Twinray
Album: The Train You're On
Review by Mike Roots

The duo of Desiree Irwin and Mike Poupko, collectively known as Twinray, draws from
backgrounds rich in performance and recording and represents the convergence of
diverse backgrounds and musical styles. Irwin, having worked with the likes of blues
legend Buddy Guy, and having served as musical director in a theatrical setting, is an
accomplished vocalist/pianist, reminiscent of artists such as Natalie Merchant and Sheryl
Crow. A talented and tasteful guitarist, Poupko honed his chops playing with Chicago-
based rockers Dearborn while also doing session and theater work in the Windy City.
Along with fellow members of the aforementioned band, Poupko gained notoriety by
opening for a number of major acts and contributing music used on NBC television
programming. Twinray's sound is an organic brand of pop with elements of rock, folk,
soul, blues and country. The Train You're On is the Chicago-based duo’s formidable
debut, encompassing these styles and incorporating subtle touches in mature and
uncluttered fashion.

A fresh and fun start, "Do You Want to Go" features a loping, funky groove courtesy of a
rumbling bass line, Poupko's vintage Motown-styled riffs, an inspired horn section and
organ. Irwin's voice, possessing a playful, girlish quality with a hint of Taylor Swift-
ness, is pure and emotive as she sings feel good lyrics about hitting the open rails and
taking the music coast to coast. As she sings, "I'm ready to jump in and start our life
long journey," you begin to get the sense that the lyrics may be more metaphorical than
anything else. "Every Day" is pretty, acoustic-based rock with Irwin offering words of
comfort and encouragement. Poupkos adds a bit of slide guitar for color as the tempo
skitters along, reminiscent or MercyMe's "Finally Home." Here, and throughout The
Train You're On, producer Sean O' Keefe (Plain White T's, Fallout Boy, Hawthorn
Heights) reveals his knack for allowing songs to breathe, revealing lots of texture and
subtleties within the grooves. For all of its artistic quality, though "Every Day" lacks a
strong hook.

Irwin reveals her blues-steeped vocal roots on the pointed "Who Do You Think You
Are." Rather than being vindictive, Irwin lets her subject know that she is on to him and
his self-absorbed and manipulative ways. In a surprising twist, she reveals that even
though she sees all of the negative qualities that she thinks she might actually have
feelings for this guy, but she's confused. Apparently she either finds these qualities
appealing or, as she sings "I want to see what makes you tick," she sees something more
behind the facade.

Acoustic roots rock gets a bit of soul infusion on "My Heart's Not Breaking," as Irwin's
vocals are revealed in their splendor. The story of a break up, her steely denial gradually
melts to reveal hurt and betrayal. With a strong chorus, abundant with vocal harmonies,
a smart bridge and effective chord progressions, "My Heart's Not Breaking" is clearly a
highlight of The Train You're On. Poupko's hooky riffs along with the earthiness of an
organ and variety of percussion serve to keep everything flowing and connected.

On "Crazy In My Mind" Irwin's wistful piano and Poupko's rustic slide and rhythm guitar
bring to mind Nora Jones at her least sedate. What sounds like a tune perfect for a
lounge or coffeehouse changes quite dramatically as energy builds into a cathartic bridge
with heavy drums and squealing guitars. The results here are quite good with Irwin's
impassioned vocals a focal point.

The R&B-tinged "No Such Thing As Better" reveals a different and unexpected side of
Twinray as a throbbing yet restrained synthesizer, congas, organ and funky guitar
establish the structure. Irwin sings as she offers words of warning against the impending
danger of greed and the selfish pursuit of success. As she sings "Enticed by Eve and her
apple / Bright and red made of plastic / When it's gone there's nothing but the core / And
you're left wanting more / There's no such thing as better when you've got to best", the
message is loud and clear. "No Such Thing As Better" proves to be a high-water mark
for The Train You're On in terms of structure, meaning, and Irwin's vocal prowess.

"You Can't Be Found" is an understated yet heartfelt ballad, filled with yearning for
emotional intimacy. Soaring vocals, folk-jazz guitar, and violins are layered and woven
together nicely. Lyrically introspective, Irwin reveals a disarming vulnerability as she
expresses the frustration of searching for an evasive love. The bubbly Sheryl Crow-
like "Twisted" showcases Poupko's guitar playing as well as ambient qualities in O'
Keefe's production technique.

With its shifting and shuffling rhythm, "Sleeping Prophet" doesn't connect quite as well
as some of the stronger tracks on the album, despite some cool backing vocals and piano
parts. "Waiting," with its acoustic guitar, subtle horn charts and lush, yet spacious
arrangements, brings The Train You're On to a strong and tasteful conclusion. Poupko's
distorted guitar, reminiscent of Paul McCartney & Wings, offers a pleasant touch,
augmenting the retro feel already in place. Irwin's vocals are warm and rich as she
articulates the struggles of being patient while trying to see and experience the blessings
of the present.

Twinray's The Train You're On is an impressive debut. It’s not without flaws, but
containing a number of gems, revealing terrific interplay and musicianship along with
quality songwriting.

Review by Mike Roots
Rating: 4 Stars (out of 5) - Review You

"Twinray - The Train You're On (2010)"

Twinray has produced a cloud-parting blast of pop-rock buoyancy with The Train You’re On, recorded with producer/engineer Sean O’Keefe (Plain White T’s, Fallout Boy, Hawthorn Heights). Their endless enthusiasm informs both the subject matter, and the merry experimentation that propels the Chicago-based band’s genre-bending sound.

“Do You Wanna Go,” a crisp rocker that opens The Train You’re On, signals the fun ride ahead as Twinray celebrates the open-road dreams we all harbor. “I’m ready to start living,” Desiree Irwin sings, in front of a bluesy turn by guitarist Mike Poupko and a series of funky horn blasts. “Every Day” holds a similar dust-yourself-off fervor. “You’ve got what it takes to fulfill the dream,” Irwin sings, “when so many like you run away.” Characters might stumble, but the plucky pair in Twinray won’t allow them to stay down. “You’re brighter than the brightest star,” Irwin sings.

She then turns away from the cold embrace of loneliness on the majestic “My Heart’s Not Breaking,” as Poupko lays down a lithe folk-rock lick. A fuzzy groove bolsters Poupko’s curling slide on “No Such Thing as Better,” while Irwin coos, “There’s no such thing as better – when you’ve got the best.” That interplay between Irwin, a farm girl from Alberta, Canada, and New Yorker Poupko provides the necessary friction to keep The Train You’re On from slipping into happy cliché. Poupko earned a bachelor’s degree in jazz guitar performance from the Chicago Musical College at Roosevelt University, and then began a career as a teacher and performer (notably, with the locally acclaimed Dearborn) around the Windy City. Along the way, he met Irwin when they worked on one of Chicago’s longest running theater productions. Together, they found a shared sensibility, and this passion for blending rock, pop, folk and blues.

Of course, most journeys are marked by potholes, blind alleys and speed traps, right? You’ll find Twinray expertly navigating the obstacles.

Irwin begins “Who Do You Think You Are” by taking a full-of-it egotist to task, setting the stage for a delicious little putdown song. But, the more she thinks about this guy, the more alluring he becomes. “You confuse me but I want to stay,” Irwin sings, amidst a grinding riff by Poupko. “I can’t think of what I want to say. I think I like you, anyway. You’re kind of growing on me in a way.” A world spinning ever faster nearly throws Irwin on “Crazy In My Mind,” before she centers herself again as Poupko tears through an appropriately jagged solo turn.

“Twisted,” with a skipping country lope belying its title, finds Twinray following along just a few steps behind a socialite who can never quite settle down. That doesn’t stop a forlorn love interest from pining away, even if he goes in knowing how fruitless that can be. “Yellow sundress, olive skin,” Irwin sings, “you pray she’ll let you in.” Poupko adds a polyrhythmic intricacy to “Sleeping Prophet,” as Irwin tries to reassure someone less certain of things. “I just want to help heal all the pain, and answer any doubt,” she sings.

The album slows almost to an idle for “You Can’t Be Found,” a tender, string-laden song about the difficulties in connecting with someone. Then thoughts come tumbling out of Irwin in a torrent. “How can I find you, be near you, and reach you?” she asks, as the tune begins a dizzying crescendo. It’s a question even this determinedly romantic duo can’t completely answer.

The Train You’re On ends with the similarly themed “Waiting,” a song with gorgeous atmospherics. Irwin’s voice, fragile but ever-expectant, is joined by a swinging brass counterpoint, Poupko’s psychedelic solo, and a conversational rhythm. That perfectly fits the rousing, Beatle-esque chorus. “Find the lesson and learn it well,” Irwin sings, closing the record on a soaring high. “You can graduate from your own hell.”

Even when the path narrows, and it always does, Twinray is this consistent voice of optimism, ever watchful for beauty in the passing scenery.

- Something Else Reviews

"Album Review: Twinray - The Train You're On"

Twinray is a band that has a great mix of rock, blues and folk sensibilities. The band is comprised of Desiree Irwin and Mike Poupko. Together they create music to soothe the soul by combining finely crafted songs with a glorious vocal. The Train You’re On is the duo’s first album and it is a fine introduction to these two talented people.

Desiree is the voice of the band and at first listen she sounds like many of the other singers in this genre. At times she sounds like Sally Ellyson from Hem and at other times she sounds like J.J. Heller. However, Desiree has something that will stop any comparisons after a few bars. This beautiful not quite baby girl voice can really rock out, particularly on songs like “Crazy In My Mind” and “No Such Thing As Better.”

Though she handles the rockers on The Train You’re On, Desiree’s voice really soars on the slower, quieter tunes like “You Can’t Be Found.” The melody has a dreamy quality that only serves to add to the mood of the song.

Desiree’s voice is the siren that draws the listeners to Twinray’s music, but there’s more here than just a great voice. Mike Poupko’s guitar playing has to be given its due. Just as Desiree can sing sweetly, then switch to a rocker or a bluesy number, Mike can handle both acoustic and electric guitars with flair, bringing life to the music.

The album opens with the fun rocker “Do You Wanna Go.” This song is folk pop and it has a melody that gets toes tapping and an infectious chorus. The guitar solo will have listeners everywhere air guitaring along. Another song showing the band’s fun side is “Every Day.” The blend of acoustic and electric guitar really brings life to the song. Fun seems to be something that Twinray does well. “My Heart’s Not Breaking” is a slower song but the chorus is so catchy that it is nearly impossible not to sing along to.

The band changes things up with “Who Do You Think You Are.” The song is bluesy and the vocal is smoky, which complicates the darker mood of the song.

Twinray mixes a lot of genres and styles of music. “Waiting” is a track that has a great guitar riff but it starts out slow and the vocal is dancing on the line between folk and country. The combination really shouldn’t work, but for some reason it does, and it does remarkably well. “Waiting” is one of The Train You’re On’s stronger songs.

The music on The Train You’re On sounds like something you’d expect to hear at a coffee shop on a Friday night. It is an album that you put on and kick back and just let the music flow. Twinray’s sound is something that listeners will be comfortable with. The melodies make you feel good, Desiree’s voice takes you away to parts unknown and when the guitars rock, they really rock.

Twinray is a band that at first listen could be dismissed as just another folk band, but it only takes a deeper listen to know that they are much more than just folksy sounds. They are a band that should be listened to repeatedly so that the full brilliance of their music can sink in. Twinray is a band that has created something beautiful and fun without making the music or the lyrics kitschy.

The Train You’re On is a stellar debut album. If this is just an indication of what Desiree and Mike have to offer, then the future is going to be full of some fantastic music.

Genre: Folk
Sounds Like: Hem, JJ Heller
Buy: Amazon
Released: Nov 2010
Rating: 10/10 - Mossip


The Train You're On



Chicago's Twinray killed it in the last year. From Buddy Guys' former keyboardist and her multi-talented partner - Twinray sizzles stages with lovely, lilting lyrics and tunes that will get caught in your head all day. In the year since releasing their debut album "The Train You're On" Twinrays' music has been licensed to various tv shows, films, and internet shows. Their song "Waiting" was chosen to be included on Relix magazines' June 2012 sampler CD which will be distributed to over 100,000 music fans throughout the country.
Twinray's eclectic mix of rock, roots, pop, and blues has been described as catchy,genre bending, intense and fun. While staying true to their classic roots the band manages to come across in a unique, but current way. The music is centered around singer Desiree Irwin’s lush vocal and piano style and Mike Poupko’s indelibly creative approach to both acoustic and electric guitar. Twinray’s debut album “The Train You’re On” was recorded with critically acclaimed producer/engineer Sean O’Keefe (Plain White T's, Fallout Boy, Hawthorn Heights). Desiree is known for her work in the blues community, theater (musical director for Tony & Tina's Wedding), and dueling pianos. Mike's credentials include the original band Dearborn ("Best Rock Album of '04"-CMA, songs on NBC, and countless high profile opening slots), theater, and studio work in Chicago. The members of Twinray look to carry the momentum they have gained from past successes in music to their exciting new project.