2009 was an awfully long time ago, especially if you are a fan of Washington, D.C.'s Last Train Home. It's been 11 years since the highly respected Washington, D.C. roots rock stalwart released a studio album. Thankfully for those fans "Daytime Highs and Overnight Lows" proves to be worth the wait.
Eric Brace, the band's frontman and the owner of Red Beet Records label, kept busy during the band's hiatus with a steady stream of excellent releases, especially his collaborations with Nashville songwriter Peter Cooper. While those albums are notable and definitely worth a listen, they don't possess the special chemistry shared by Last Train Home's 11 members and the instantly-recognizable sound they create when playing together.
There is a swagger to here that wasn't necessarily felt on the band's previous albums. Don't think flashy, rather this is the kind of swagger that emerges from the confluence of talent, confidence and time.
That vibe is evident in a few different ways, like the band putting finishing touches on several songs that had lived in limbo over the years. Brace points out that "Sweet Lorraine," a lovely tune carried by Jen Gunderman's piano, is a remnant from the band's early days that was always missing a verse, They finish it here, and it's a real musical highlight - one showcasing tasteful solo passages by several band members including Kevin Cordt on trumpet, whose brief but notable solo is punctuated by a few well-placed glockenspiel notes.
"Happy Is," a bright pop diversion, is another older song fully-realized for this album. Brace credits this one as something written and recorded for, but ultimately abandoned from 2005's "Bound Away" album. The song stands out stylistically and is clearly loved by the band since the album's title is pulled from its lyrics.
Yet another tune finally seeing the light of day is also the album's most surprising song - a joyous cover of Barry White's "What Am I Gonna Do With You." According to Brace, this song was played live for a time years ago at D.C.-area venues, but never went further. Cordt's trumpet, Alan Brace's harmonica and Chris Watling's saxophone all shine on this one.
From the opposite end of the musical spectrum, the band also delivers a great cover of "Sleepy Eyes" from Frog Holler, a Pennsylvania-based Americana band. The song, which is also the album's opener, is propelled by brushed snare and banjo, establishing a relaxed atmosphere prevalent throughout the 14-song collection.
As suggested by the band's moniker, Brace and company have an affinity for trains. This is more evident on "Daytime Highs and Overnight Lows" than on any of the band's previous releases with "Old Railroads," "Taking Trains" and "B&O Man" all directly referencing locomotives and the people who operated or rode on them.
The latter tune, a song originally written for, but not used in a documentary film about a Maryland train station, is a beautiful piece of biographical fiction - one that captures how a returning veteran's post-war life is closely connected to his career on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.
Solid from start to finish with many more notable songs not mentioned here, "Daytime Highs and Overnight Lows" is Eric Brace & Last Train Home's finest to date.