Through The Window Of A Train

Blue Highway

Rounder, 2008

REVIEW BY: Curtis Jones


Blue Highway is one of the most consistent bands in the bluegrass field. Not only because they have maintained the same lineup since their inception, but also because they have continued to put out high quality products with each release. This has been proven by a host of loyal fans and a bevy of awards and recognitions for their work. Out of this solid catalog, Through The Window Of A Train should be considered one of their best.

The band's style falls somewhere between the traditional and progressive styles within bluegrass. All songs on the album are originals and the subjects go beyond the normal bluegrass lore, yet they are still firmly rooted in the Appalachian storytelling song tradition. "Sycamore Hollow" is an amazing mix of syncopated rhythms and harmonies of the dobro, guitar, and mandolin all while telling a captivating story based in the Civil War era of rescuing a woman from kidnap and violation at the hands of the invaders.  This song should make the list of bluegrass songs for non-bluegrass listeners to listen to. "A Week From Today" conveys a touching story of a man who has served 50 years of a 99 year sentence for some unknown crime and will be released due to overcrowding. In a testament to the power of music, the tale of anxiety that this man faces going back into a world that he has never really lived in actually makes you feel sorry for this criminal. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The group wades into what other reviewers have described as "anti war" songs. I'm not sure I agree with that assessment, since, like most of the album, the subjects chosen dwell on the humanity of the situation rather than trying to make a political point. "Homeless Man" laments a homeless veteran's plight and death in the streets, while "Two Soldiers" gives a perspective of military death from the point of view of a soldier tasked with telling loved ones that a service member has been killed. It is a powerful song.

"Where Did The Morning Go?" is a beautiful and simple song that should make every listener stop and asses their lives and the passage of time. "Where did the morning go? I meant to do much more with this life" encapsulates the fleeting nature of life, and stirs a reckoning with death we all must face.  In a similar vein, the title track notes how quickly technology has moved us forward but also has put is out of touch with our surroundings.

There are other, more traditional offerings like "Blues On Blues," the impressive instrumental "The North Cove," and the semi-spiritual "V-Bottom Boat," which is a textbook example of the old style of bluegrass but with great vocal harmonies.

There have been several stellar Blue Highway albums, but Through The Window Of A Train maintains a high level consistently. The group works to achieve perfection as well, making albums every two or three years rather than on a year after year churn that many groups must do.  The musicianship is superb, and as always, Rob Ikes shows why he is the best dobro player in the world.  If you think bluegrass is all "my dog died and I murdered my wife while I was drunk," then you need to pick this album up.

Rating: A

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