Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Chasin' The Train - Dead Man's Handle

When Scottish band Chasin’ The Train turn the ignition key on ‘Beat Up Ford’, the opening track on Dead Man’s Handle, they sound good and ready to go racing on the strip.  There’s a throaty engine-like rumble, a fuel injection of Chuck Berry-ish guitar, and they’re off on a two and half minute blast of rock’n’roll that brings to mind the old classic ‘Bony Moronie’.  With a full-tilt shuffling rhythm courtesy of drummer Jason Little, screeches of harp from Robert ‘Howlin’ Bob’ Clements hinting at squealing tires, and singer Tom Cuddihy right in the zone, it’s energetic, tight, and great fun.
A couple of tracks later, ‘Temporary Man’ is almost as good, opening up with echoing slide guitar that tips the hat to Jimmy Page on ‘In My Time Of Dying’, before cranking out some
boogie that’s weighty with grit and reinforced by stabs of slide and harp.  There’s a bright,
Chasin' The Train get revved up
buzzing guitar solo from Rory Nelson, and a good ol’ fashioned harp solo from Clements that ends on a yelp of slide, and it all fits together in enjoyable fashion.

Unfortunately though, on several tracks there’s a sense that the whole is not quite greater than the sum of its parts, like a Rubik Cube that’s one square short of being solved, or a dish where one of the ingredients is missing.  So a song like ‘FWPB’ - referring to First World Problems - suffers from a prosaic chorus that undermines its better qualities, such as Peter Jamieson’s elasticated bass lines (often a positive, it has to be said), an easy-going guitar solo from Nelson, and verses in which Cuddihy offers amusing observations in laid back fashion.  The same issue of an average chorus afflicts the overlong ‘Down Home’ and the closing ‘Don’t You Lie To Me’.  On the former it detracts from some muscular chord progressions and Clement kicking in with some harp that creates a Dylan vibe.  On the latter it deflates a conversational vocal from Cuddihy on the verse, as well as other positives such as the acoustic strummed undercurrent, the snapping drums and grooving bass, the plaintive harp in the more downbeat middle eight, and Nelson’s satisfying, well-paced guitar solo.
On the slow blues of ‘Exit Wounds’ the arrangement leaves Cuddihy straining a tad in an uncomfortably high vocal register, and the same is true on the following ‘No Blues’.  But it’s still worth noting that ‘Exit Wounds’ comes with a simple and appealing descending riff and suitably mournful harp from Clements, while on ‘No Blues’ the rhythm section cook up an appetising groove out of a stomping beat and soulful bass, with some Morse Code like guitar chords, though for me it cries out for the colour of horns rather than harp.
‘Too Much Sugar’ though, is a short and sweet jump blues concoction that combines a ‘Ballroom Blitz’-ish rhythm with somersaulting bass and a brief, rock’n’rollin’ guitar solo, while Cuddihy’s rattling vocal is rounded out by some enjoyable the-gang’s-all-here backing vocals.
When everything clicks Chasin’ The Train show themselves to be a really capable, enjoyable outfit, as ‘Beat Up Ford’, ‘Temporary Man’ and ‘Too Much Sugar’ demonstrate.  There’s just this frustrating sense that with Dead Man’s Handle there was a better album wrestling to get out, if they’d only been able to spot when some aspects needed more work.  Maybe next time.

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