There is a moment in Ken Burns’ wonderful Country Music documentary when he traces the twin themes of the genre — singing about home and hearth, or about being out on the lonesome road — to The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, respectively. Eric Brace & Last Train Home’s first album together since 2009 belongs in the latter category, albeit with some yearning for the first.
Daytime Highs & Overnight Lows is fairly eclectic musically, but it has a subtext running through — traveling one way or another, figurately and physically. The lovely album artwork of a sun setting (or rising?) sets the tone.
“There’s been a lot of traveling over the years (terrible for my carbon footprint, but wonderful for my wanderlust), and lots of being apart from those that matter,” Brace writes in the liner notes for the song “Distance and Time.” It could be said for the whole album.
“Distance and Time” is a country lament from someone traveling back to a loved one and acknowledging that the two dimensions “are not on our side” but that “we’ll soon be together.”
The pop tune “Happy Is” is the opposite, summed up by the line: “I’ve got a suitcase full of my regrets / And it goes where I go.”
There are, of course, train songs (what “road” album could be without them?). But for those (like me) who prefer the nautical life, there is the jaunty “Sailor” about a man buying a boat, getting an anchor tattoo and sailor suit, then waiting for the tide to take him somewhere he will only know when he gets there.
I mentioned that the album is somewhat eclectic. This is partly because it incorporates country, a bit of bluegrass, and some pop. But it is also because of two surprising standouts.
Horns and harmonica come out firing in a mildly countryfied cover of “What Am I Gonna Do With You,” something Barry White probably did not consider when he released the first version in 1975.
Similarly, Brace and the band finish their enjoyable album with the Monkees-like “Wake Up, We’re in Love.” It is about a couple in love and (of course) traveling. But it is very 1960s. As Brace puts it: “Perhaps you’ll crank it up and do the Watusi in your living room.”