Ride on the Train is an album that a lot of people are going to love for its multi-generational appeal. But besides that, it’s just good rock music. It’s hard to peg a specific sound on it. There are no “skip” songs on this album though. Be prepared to keep it in your player, on repeat, for a long time. Oh, and the next time one of your friends says “they just don’t make music like they used to,” you slap them and hand them this album. But make sure you slap them first, for dramatic effect.
Hollis Brown have a classic sound that is sure to satisfy a variety of music fans. There’s a certain timeless element to their sound that will have typical “classic rock” fans happy. But what they also have going for them is a refreshing newness. They sound like a band that you’ve heard before, but odds are you haven’t. That’s because Hollis Brown reflect some of the greatest bands in rock music from Tom Petty to The Eagles to Lynrd Skynrd.
Hollis Brown’s “Down on Your Luck” sounds like it could have come straight out of 1966. It makes the listener feel like that “cold wind blowin’” is out the windows of an old Camaro or Mustang. “When the night runs cold and you’re down on your luck…” highlights the theme of the songwriter being available to help. But really what makes this song so good isn’t lyrical complexity, but rather a Creedence kind of joy. If you played this at a party and told the crowd it was a lost Creedence reel, you wouldn’t get much criticism.
“When the Water’s Warm” has that southern rock feel to it, including some pretty incredible guitar flourishes that make the song really work. The combination of the bluesy base and the killer vocals soaring over the softer vibe makes for a slow dance-worthy song. It harkens back to early days of Skynrd in a way that few artists have done since. It’s like Hollis Brown intentionally wanted to pay homage to some of the greatest rock bands of all time. Well played, gents.
In the middle of the album “Doghouse Blues” reflect a deep south flavoring that combines organ-based calypso with Louisiana delta blues. “Go to work in the morning… go to bed at night… ain’t got no place to hide.” This is a core song about the lethargy of blue collar life. The guitar solo in the middle of this song is the best axe-play on the album and it has us clamoring for more. The sounds all taken together give us glimmers of delight from the days of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s guitar-heavy blues. In fact, this song is a sort of kissing cousin with something like “Texas Flood” or “Pride and Joy.” Give me a pool stick and a cheap beer. This is corner tavern music.
“Gypsy Black Cat” shifts gears on us quite a bit, particularly toward the twangy guitar-vocal balance that puts us in mind of more recent artists, namely Dawes. The guitars are no less impressive, but they create a completely different sonic atmosphere. The lyrics, too, are a bit more complex in telling a story of abuse and a sense of personal redemption. The songwriter is available to help a woman, similar to “Down on Your Luck.”
The classic sounding “Faith and Love” is probably the class of the album. There’s no easy way to describe the guitars in this song, except to call them “walking.” They seem to just stroll through the track, with a lyrical pacing that feels almost like Motown. “It’s gonna take faith and love and everything [you know and God knows what].” The lyrics get a little sketchy there, but there seems to be an underlying story of success in life despite not being able to fulfill larger personal goals in a variety of fields. It’s just an overall joy-filled but fittingly realistic song.
Hollis Brown slow it down again with “If It Ain’t Me,” a song that sounds so much like a classic 60s song that I actually Googled to see if it was one. It’s tough to say who, exactly, this song sounds like, but it’s definitely not standard 21st century fair. The stereo split with one acoustic in the left channel and another acoustic in the right… with the rhythm section seemingly in the middle of your head… is phenomenal production quality. Even though other songs on the album are well mixed, this song in particular captures the desired effect of the song with spectacular fashion. Oh, and the lyrics, are about denying a breakup. It’s dark and romantic, written seemingly out of heartache.
“Walk on Water” is another guitar-based rock song, but the final song on the album, “Nightfall” shows off the fantastic balance of the band. With awesome vocals, well-written guitar parts, and an enjoyable overall feel, the song provides the perfect end to a comfortable album. This song sounds like something off of the early Clapton years, a la Cream, using blues-inspired guitars and whimsical, semi-intelligible lyrics. “Don’t you say goodbye. Don’t you ever wonder why things aren’t what you planned? At least you got someone to understand.” Again, this is a song about coping with the realities of hard life.
Throughout this album there’s a particularly strong class ethic. Maybe it’s my own increased sensibility to these types of songs, but there’s a lot of attention paid to repetitive but nevertheless hard lyrics. Drawing from a deep and important blues legacy, these words emanate from a place of sometimes despair, but often profound perseverance. This is the music of the people; it’s the music of people who work and love and sing about the not-so-pretty aspects of a world worth surviving. In short, this is classic American rock and roll.