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The latest stable of country-rock musicians is saddled with the “No Depression” and “Insurgent Country” tags. But Last Train Home’s Eric Brace doesn’t necessarily object to the labels.
“I don’t mind being considered part of a wider musical movement, as long as it’s not used as some kind of shorthand to dismiss us. I’ve heard so many people come up and say, ‘I hate country music, but I love you guys!’” Brace says. (He might be comfortable with journalists using catch phrases to describe his band because Brace, too, is a scribe. As the “Nightwatch” columnist for the Washington Post’s Weekend section, Brace himself resorts to journalistic shorthand to describe the groups he reviews.)
And despite the media’s addiction to trend-spotting, Brace need not worry about being accused of trying to commandeer a bandwagon. “Twenty years ago, my brother [Alan, who plays mandolin and harmonica in LTH] and I played in a pickup bluegrass band around here, and I played with one when I was in college in Boston, so I’m not worried about being called some Johnny-come-lately to the genre,” he says. “It’s pretty obvious why country, folk, and country-rock are growing, and it’s because the good songs in those genres have a depth to them that rock and pop songs might not have.”
Brace has played in numerous groups over the years, including several versions of Last Train Home, Kevin Johnson & the Linemen, the Beggars, Vauxhall Wagon, and Free Guns at Midnight, but he considers his latest band and its current lineup his most worthwhile project yet. And it’s not simply because the band has just released a confident, accomplished, and quietly excellent self-titled debut.
“We’re definitely more successful than previous incarnations of the band and more successful than [my] previous bands, because it’s clear to everybody watching us that we’re having a blast being onstage playing music,” Brace explains. “We’re all in our 30s and have been playing clubs forever, so we’re really loose onstage. We usually play without a set list, and we’ve got tons of songs in our heads, so I just call things out, depending on my mood, or one of the guys will call out a song and we’ll just let it rip.”
Brace combines Gram Parsonslike twang and singer-songwriter pop into a bundle that is pleasingly comfortable without being overly familiar. And if your heart warms to love/anti-love songs, all of Last Train Home will set your chest a-burnin’.
“Hey, ‘St. Elmo’s Blues’ isn’t a love song. It’s about getting old and obsolete!” Brace protests. “As for the love songs, the muse usually hits me around 2 in the morning…and I guess that’s what’s on my mind that time of night.”
With some promotion and luck, Last Train Home could become a left-field hit. But Brace won’t be running from his cozy cubicle at the Post any time soon.
“I have very possibly the best job in the world here at the Post, so it would have to be something pretty big before I walked away from it,” he says. “Touring the country in a van probably wouldn’t offer much in the way of health insurance.”Christopher Porter
Last Train Home plays a CD release party Friday, Jan. 16, at the Metro Cafe, along with Sixty Acres, Dana Cerick & the Conveyors of Pain, and Thrift Store Saint.