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Glory Bound/Rattle the Hocks
The Grahams
Label: 12 South Records via Red Music (Sony Music)
Release Date: May 19, 2015
Review Date: May 17, 2015


New York, New York – so nice you gotta say it twice. Since rising country duo The Grahams – husband and wife Alyssa and Doug Graham – are originally from New York, that may be one reason they chose to offer-up two versions of the same songs on their double-disc release Glory Bound/Rattle the Hocks. Or maybe it's simply that the songs are so nice, they recorded them twice.

For those who might be wondering, “rattle the hocks” is an old western expression that roughly translates as “get a move on”. With this vehicle (forgive the pun), The Grahams career is sure to be on the move.

Both discs feature Alyssa Graham's powerful, evocative pipes and some tight harmonies, presumably provided by Doug Graham. Glory Bound offers studio versions of ten songs also found on the second disc Rattle the Hocks, which is drawn from the soundtrack of a documentary by the same name. 

Each disc also contains a couple of cuts not found on the other. Rattle the Hocks closes with Big John, not to be confused with the old Jimmy Dean chestnut. This Big John is an acapella, rollicking field holler, and it's a real winner.

Rattle the Hocks also features the Steve Goodman classic City of New Orleans, done up here in a lively version complete with banjo, trombone and tuba. While purists might be offended at turning Goodman's wistful “disappearing railroad blues” song into a sort of Dixieland romp, anyone who's ever been present at a New Orleans funeral will understand completely. 

One song, Lay Me Down, stands out on both discs. It's a plea for some help from Jesus by a sadder-but-wiser, road-weary traveler down on her luck and longing for a little love:

“I would trade my wedding dress

For a night of tenderness

I would trade my dignity

For a night of sympathy”

Lay Me Down also laments life on the road:

“I played in every dive

For twenty years … I'm still alive

How many broken strings

To pick and tune, to play these things”

But despite the lamentation, Lay Me Down still manages to offer hope and the promise of a change for the better with its stirring chorus:

“I played in every town 

From Jacksonville to Puget Sound

I'm done with sublimation

Alcohol … medication

I played in every town

At county fairs and battlegrounds

I'm done with sublimation

Alcohol … medication”

Love and life on the road are an endless source of inspiration for songwriters. But truth be told, too often those songs reflect a longing for what never was. But reality rarely reigns when nostalgia rears its head.

That's certainly the case with trains, which in reality were dirty, noisy and a blot on the landscape. And those tracks trailing off invitingly into the distance all too often turned out to be just another lonesome road. 

On the other hand, trains once were a pathway to freedom for the downtrodden and the oppressed. Glory Bound/Rattle the Hocks tap into that rich vein. Both the film and the recordings pay tribute to the long-standing – and long-suffering – love affair between musicians and trains. That tack – if not the same track – has been taken before. 

For instance, the 2003 movie Festival Express was based on a 1970 Canadian tour that featured Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, The Band, Delaney & Bonnie & Friends and others. On that tour, most of the musicians traveled by rail, and a substantial portion of the film features impromptu jam sessions aboard the train.  

Mickey Hart, Grateful Dead drummer, summed up that excursion this way:

“Woodstock was a treat for the audience, but the train was a treat for the performers." 

The seems to be the case here, too, judging from the fact The Grahams and their fellow travelers on this musical excursion so obviously enjoyed making the film and these recordings. And with Glory Bound/Rattle the Hocks, the audience is in for a treat as well.