The idea of a new album of traditional and contemporary railroad songs had been percolating for a decade or so before recording began for Americana Railroad. After talking about artists and songs and label partner possibilities every few years producers Carla Olson and Saul Davis decided to just begin and see what was possible.
The first artist asked was Stephen McCarthy (Dream Syndicate, Jayhawks, Long Ryders) to see if he would be interested in such a project, followed by Robert Rex Waller Jr (I See Hawks In L.A.), John York (Byrds), Dave Alvin, Rocky Burnette, Gary Myrick and James Intveld. Rock’n’roll, Rockabilly, Americana ~ the genre or category is for the listener to decide. The goal was simple – railroad songs performed by great expressive artists.
After recording the nine tracks that Carla produced, the thought turned to locating a record company partner.
Executive David Hirshland noted, “When Saul brought this to me for possible release by Renew / BMG it instantly made sense. There is such a deep history of trains in the American musical canon I felt that we should expand the project and get more artists on board. Every artist we subsequently approached was eager to join in.”
Since the overwhelming number of train songs requires hard choices, this anthology’s selections attempt to cover significant historical ground. Elizabeth Cotton’s “Freight” Train is covered lovingly by A.J .Haynes in a style evocative of the ‘50’s in which it was written. Dom Flemons takes the true story of ex-slave and Pullman porter Nat Love (aka Deadwood Dick) and spins it into a narrative of spiritual survival and ultimately triumph via original track “Steel Pony Blues.” Steve Goodman’s epic “City of New Orleans,” a portrait of the disintegration of an entire way of life, is given added poignancy by John Fogerty’s vocals and Micky Raphael’s harmonica. Peter Case’s treatment of “This Train” echoes Woody Guthrie and the world of depression era America. Americana Railroad is thus meant to entertain and educate albeit subtly.
Prior to Americana Railroad’s June 17th CD and digital release, it was issued as a limited edition vinyl piece for Record Store Day in November 2021.
Today Glide is excited to offer an exclusive premiere of Dave Alvin’s tune “Southwest Chief” (PRE-SAVE), which finds him collaborating with Carla Olson. Backed by a chugging beat that aptly brings to mind a train, Alvin uses his timeless vocals and lyrics to paint a picture of nostalgia-soaked landscape as observed through the window. In addition to the lyrics, which focuses on life’s fleeting moments, Alvin’s acoustic fingerpicking enhances the beautifully sparse Americana sound of the song. Ultimately, “Southwest Chief” is the kind of song that exemplifies the magic of Dave Alvin both as a songwriter and guitar player. The vivid imagery and cadence of the song also makes it perfect for this musical project.
Carla Olson comments on her relationship with Dave Alvin and how it led to the “Southwest Chief” track:
My band the Textones shared many stages with Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin’s Blasters including one really sweltering London show in July 1985.
Dave and I always planned to work together on a song or a project, but came up empty until the Americana Railroad album. Taking up my offer to record a train song, Dave showed up at the studio with an original he was still writing words to on a single piece of notebook paper.
Southwest Chief, no doubt comes from his personal excursions where he serves as the camera capturing the American landscape through the windows of the train. So descriptive are his lyrics bringing tears to my eyes with every listen. I can almost feel the rocking of the cars on the tracks as he sings in his plaintive style and finger picks the repeating guitar riff.
Dave reminds us all how fleeting life is as he laments the passing of a friend with whom a song they promised to write together never came to be.