Waiting On The Gravy Train

The Freight Hoppers

Rounder Records, 1998


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Hearing the amalgam of folk and bluegrass that makes up the true Americana music is often exciting to follow and develop, even if the material is created in modern times. While I can appreciate the fact that such music will not appeal to everyone (I'd be the first to admit that it's very much an acquired taste), it is something that anyone who considers themselves to be serious about music should listen to on an occasional basis.

The Freight Hoppers, a quartet from North Carolina, is one band that is dedicated to keeping such music alive in the minds and hearts of people today. Their latest album Waiting On The Gravy Train features some incredible musical performances, but it also shows that vocals are not this band's strongest suit. And despite what the liner notes may say about the purity of the performance, a decent vocal would have helped some of these songs.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The band - David Bass on fiddle, Frank Lee on banjo, guitar and vocals, Cary Fridley on guitar and vocals, and James O'Keefe on acoustic bass - are top notch musicians, and they are obviously dedicated to their craft. Tracks like "Backstep Cindy," "Molly Put The Kettle On" and "Fort Smith Breakdown" show the talents of the band. The worst thing I could say about their performances is that often the banjo and acoustic bass are lost in the mix, though they occasionally pop their heads out to be heard.

When it comes to vocals, though, it is Lee whose work stands out. Fridley tries her best, but her nasal delivery on songs like "A Roving On A Winter's Night" reminds me too much of Shelley Duvall trying to sing in the movie "Popeye" -- it wasn't the most comfortable feeling. Unfortunately, it is not something you get used to over a length of time.

And while much of the music on Waiting On The Gravy Train should, at the least, pique some people's curiosity about this genre of music, a few songs just don't have that kind of magic. Fortunately for The Freight Hoppers, these moments come late in the album; the one song I would say is a track you could pass on is the closer, "Shortenin' Bread."

In the end, though, Waiting On The Gravy Train is a rather nice history lesson, even for those who might not like bluegrass or folk. Songs like "Fall On My Knees", "Nobody's Business" and "We Shall All Be Reunited" help to remind a generation raised on synthesizers and electric guitar that the music they love still has its roots in a more acoustic, earthy style of music like what The Freight Hoppers perform.

All of this said, it still is an acquired taste that might take a listen or two to really appreciate -- but it is well worth the effort. Waiting On The Gravy Train is a nice flashback to an earlier style of music in this country -- possibly serving as even the father of country music -- and should be expreienced by anyone who wants to discover the roots of music in America.

Rating: B-

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© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Rounder Records, and is used for informational purposes only.