Not long ago, I found myself thinking about the shocking lack of train songs in modern music. There was a time when the shining metal rails served as muses to songwriters of all stripes. Whether it was blues, rock, folk, or country music, trains were a near-constant subject. It seems that I wasn’t the only one who was longing for the good old days of songs about trains, riding the rails, and dodging the bulls. Recently, producers Carla Olson and Saul Davis put together Americana Railroad, a compilation that celebrates the long tradition of railroad songs in American music.
According to a press release, Olson and Davis have been talking about putting this collection of songs together for more than a decade. After years of planning, talking about, and shelving the project, they decided to get started on it and let the pieces fall where they may. Then, Americana Railroad started to come together.
Americana Railroad Picks up Steam
Olson and Davis started reaching out to artists to pitch the project. First, they spoke to Stephen McCarthy of Dream Syndicate and Jayhawks fame. Then, the train kept rolling and picked up Robert Rex Waller Jr., John York of the Byrds, Dave Alvin, and several other artists with connections to the Americana realm. With a car full of talented passengers, Americana Railroad steamed forward.
After getting some songs recorded, Olson and Davis started looking for a label partner. They spoke to the folks at Renew/BMG and it soon became obvious that Americana Railroad had found a station to call home. About the project, BMG executive David Hirshland said, “When Saul brought this to me for possible release by Renew/BMG it instantly made sense. There is such a deep history of trains in the American musical canon. I felt that we should expand the project and get more artists on board. Every artist we subsequently approached was eager to join in.”
Decades of Tradition Coming Down the Line
There are so many train songs in American music that the crew had some tough decisions to make. A desire to cover a significant amount of historical ground with this collection of songs guided those decisions. They selected classics like “This Train” arranged by Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Elizabeth Cotton’s “Freight” alongside Dom Flemons’ original song “Steel Pony Blues” and Steve Goodman’s “City of New Orleans.”
Earlier this month, they released the first song from Americana Railroad. Stephen McCarthy and Carla Olson teamed up to present McCarthy’s “Here Comes That Train Again” and it’s a wonderful look at what this collection has to offer.
Americana Railroad Tracklist
- Here Comes That Train Again (Stephen McCarthy) – Stephen McCarthy & Carla Olson
- The Conductor Wore Black (Chip Kinman, Tony Kinman) – Robert Rex Waller Jr with Chip Kinman
- Mystery Train (Herman Parker, Sam C. Philips) – Rocky Burnette with Barry Goldberg
- This Train (Traditional, arranged by Sister Rosetta Tharpe) – Peter Case
- City Of New Orleans (Steve Goodman) – John Fogerty with Mickey Raphael
- Marrakesh Express (Graham Nash) – Dustbowl Revival
- Train Leaves Here This Morning (Gene Clark, Bernie Leadon) – Kai Clark with Byron Berline
- Train Kept A-Rollin’ (Tiny Bradshaw, Howie Kay, Sydney Nathan) – Gary Myrick
- Southwest Chief (Dave Alvin) – Dave Alvin
- 500 Miles (Hedy West) – Alice Howe
- People Get Ready (Curtis Mayfield) – Deborah Poppink
- Steel Pony Blues (Dom Flemons) – Dom Flemons
- Runaway Train (John Stewart) – John York
- Waiting For A Train (Jimmie Rodgers) – Paul Burch & Fats Kaplin
- Freight Train (Elizabeth Cotton) – AJ Haynes of Seratones
- Whiskey Train (Keith Reid, Robin Trower) – Carla Olson & Brian Ray
- Mystery Train (Herman Parker, Sam C. Phillips) – James Intveld with Barry Goldberg
- Midnight Rail (Steve Young) – Robert Rex Waller Jr with Todd Wolfe
- I Remember the Railroad (Gene Clark) – Stephen McCarthy & Carla Olson
Americana Railroad hits shelves and streaming services on June 17th. Preorder your copy today.