It's always a pleasure to discover artists whose works infiltrate your mind with quiet grace. And so it was with the eponymous debut of Last Train Home, a twang-pop group from the Washington, D.C., area with songs smooth and safe enough for mainstream country, yet laden with thoughtful and intelligent lyrics.
The five-piece band is fronted by Eric Brace, formerly of Kevin Johnson & the Linemen. Brace wrote eight of the disc's twelve songs and has a voice that's a perfect match for the tunes: aching but not resigned, sentimental but not sappy. His brother, Al, plays mandolin and harmonica and supplies velvety harmonies along with guitarist Bill Williams. Bassist J. Carson Gray and drummer Martin Lynds round out the group. Two guest musicians, pedal steel player David Van Allen and pianist Kevin McKendree, add noteworthy texture.
Instrumentally, the band may be a bit too even. They chug across the plains with exclusively slow to moderate ballads, taking no sidetrips through more emotional vocal climaxes or guitar epiphanies. But where they lack in peaks and valleys, Brace picks up the slack with his beautiful wordsmithing, offering intimate, soul-searching lyrics that ponder relationships in moods ranging from the naive hope of "Angelina" to the confusion and cynicism of "List Of Sorrows". In "I Recall Thinkin'", Brace ponders communication gaps: "I was sittin' with a pen in my hand/Tryin' to write down a song/And I recall thinkin' what's the point/'Cause you can write all you like/But writin' won't right any wrongs." The crux is that Brace doesn't need flash to be impressive. All he needs is to pour his heart out to deliver an impressive debut.