ERIC’S NOTES ON DAYTIME HIGHS AND OVERNIGHT LOWS
I didn’t expect to be making another Last Train Home record. It had been a while.
The last Last Train Home release was Six Songs in 2009, covers of tunes I’d always loved. And before that, Live at IOTA CD and DVD in 2008. The last record with new songs was Last Good Kiss in 2007. Since then, I’ve been recording and touring as a duo with Peter Cooper and as a trio with Peter and Thomm Jutz. I wrote and recorded a musical (folk opera?) with Karl Straub, Hangtown Dancehall, I compiled three volumes of East Nashville music, I produced an album by a cappella great Jerry Lawson, and put them all out on my Red Beet Records label.
Now and then Last Train Home would reconvene for a show, mostly up in the Washington D.C. area, where we’d begun and where many of us still were and are. When IOTA Club & Café announced that it was closing its doors late in 2017, we converged on our erstwhile home base in Arlington, Virginia, for two nights of music and tears and revelry. The love we all felt in that room was inspiring, and the notion of making a new record took hold.
I knew that Jared Bartlett would be the key to everything. Jared has been an auxiliary LTH-er for 15 years, and had produced our Bound Away (2005) album, as well as having mixed Hangtown Dancehall (2014) and Jerry Lawson’s Just a Mortal Man (2015). When he said “Let’s do it,” we began. I finished old songs, wrote some new ones, and made lists of tunes by other folks I’d always wanted to record. Over two days in June, I popped up the street to Eric Fritsch’s Eastwood Studios with fellow Nashvillians Martin Lynds (drums) and Jim Gray (bass) to lay down the rhythm tracks. After that, we recorded Jen Gunderman’s keyboard parts, along with my vocals and guitar, at Thomm Jutz’s studio outside Nashville. Then it was up to D.C. where Jared tracked his guitar parts, my brother Alan’s harmonica and voice, Kevin Cordt’s trumpet and Chris Watling’s saxophone, Bill Williams and Scott McKnight’s vocals, and Dave Van Allen’s pedal steel. As Jared began mixing, Scott and Bill were also recording parts in their home studios and sending them to him – guitars, banjo, mandolin, keyboards.
There were final touches added by guests Justin Moses (banjo), Thomm (acoustic guitar), and Lindsay Hayes (backing vocals). (Lindsay for many years was the indispensible cog in the Red Beet Records wheel, basically running the label for many years. It’s a joy to have her on the record!)
Jared took all these sounds and mixed them into a record that I think is truly a treat for the ears. Headphones recommended, but I just hope the world will give it a listen.
As he listened down to Daytime Highs and Overnight Lows for the first time, Martin texted me: “Holy crap! Did we just make our best record?”
I’d say the answer is “Yes, we did.”
1 SLEEPY EYES
I first heard this in the early aughts when Last Train Home played in Pennsylvania with a band called Frog Holler, a splendid combo fronted by songwriter Darren Schlappich. I wanted to record this from that first listen, and now we have. It’s of the best love songs to a place you’ll ever hear. Seek out Frog Holler, who are still at it with the same shambolic joy. You’ll love what you find.
2 CANEY FORK
When Peter Cooper, Thomm Jutz, and I were working on our Riverland album, I was thinking a lot about rivers and their watersheds. Driving around Nashville, you can cross over the snaking Caney Fork river many times in many places, and I was picturing a paper boat of woes floating from Nashville to the sea.
3 DISTANCE AND TIME
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. Depending on how it’s played, this could be a drinking song or a prayer. On this version we tried to mix those two things. (While working on the lyrics I used the word “cantation”, which I discovered didn’t exist when I looked for it in the dictionary. But I liked it and kept it. So there, OED.)
4 DEAR LORRAINE
This was a fragment from the early days of the band, one that needed another verse. I’d been nominally inspired by the song “Sweet Lorraine,” so I recently went back to it and gently lifted a slew of lyrics. Please don’t tell Mitchell Parish. (Long time LTH listeners will recognize my brother Alan’s harmonica playing and harmonies right away, and Jen Gunderman’s elegant, defining piano.)
5 HAPPY IS
We recorded a skeletal version of this for the Bound Away album, but it remained just a skeleton until recently. It took some rewrites and some splendid band input and now it’s way better than what was in my head back then.
We met Steve Wedemeyer while on tour of Germany in the fall of 2004. A rising singer-songwriter from Austin (via Houston), Steve’s debut album was out on Blue Buffalo, the German label that had also released our Bound Away record. His guitar playing was as stellar as his songwriting and we asked him to move to Nashville and join the band. He did, and we recorded and toured together until he moved back to Texas in 2009. His spirit and sublime guitar work are all over our albums Last Good Kiss and Live at IOTA, and Steve’s song “Can’t Come Undone” is on Last Good Kiss as well. I’ve always loved his song “Floodplains” and now I get to sing it. Thank you, Steve. We miss you!
7 HUDSON RIVER
We met Jared Bartlett back in 2000 (or was it 2001?) at Jammin Java outside Washington D.C. where he was doing sound and working in the recording studio there. He was also playing guitar with brothers Luke and Daniel Brindley (who own Jammin Java and Union Stage in D.C. with other brother Jonathan). We loved Jared’s guitar playing and engineering smarts and he joined LTH for a nice stretch until we moved to Nashville. I heard this song on a Brindley Brothers record 15 years ago and haven’t stopped singing along. Luke and Daniel gave the thumbs up to LTH having a go at it and so we did, with Jared reinventing his parts from way back when.
8 WHAT AM I GONNA DO WITH YOU
Twenty-plus years ago I was in my car singing along to Barry White’s Greatest Hits, and had the crazy notion of playing this one with LTH. The boys were all game, and we had fun with it for a time at places like Lewie’s, Felix, and (sigh) IOTA (cue Tommy Keene’s “Places That Are Gone”). It’s been in my head for years, and now I can set it free and get a good night’s sleep.
9 OLD RAILROADS
My friend and frequent collaborator Thomm Jutz wrote this song with Tammy Rogers, leader of the wonderful bluegrass band The Steeldrivers. It’s simple, and yet… not. Thomm recorded it on his album Crazy If You Let It, and I loved it the moment I heard it. But in my head, it had layers of horns, like Allen Toussaint’s on The Band’s live version of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” Kevin Cordt and Chris Watling bring alive the song's elegiac heart.
10 I LIKE YOU
A simple sentiment. A simple song. With a chorus melody and chords stolen from Burt Bacharach (and fellow thief Nick Lowe).
11 B&O MAN
Years ago, a documentary was being made about the train station in Silver Spring, Maryland, and it was suggested that I might contribute to the soundtrack. This song didn’t make the cut, but a re-written version (with Peter Cooper) DID make the cut for the Profiles in Courage, Frailty, and Discomfort album that I made with Peter and Thomm Jutz. I’ve always heard this as an LTH song, and now it is.
We’re all boats on an uncertain sea, no…?
A version of this is on The Comeback Album that I made with Peter Cooper, and it was time to revive it as a Last Train Home song. Chris and Kevin claim it whole-heartedly.
13 TAKING TRAINS
My brother Alan and I were in a band called B-Time in Washington D.C. back in the ‘80s, along with Steve McWilliams (now of The Truehearts, in Nashville) and Evan Pollack (still one of Washington’s finest drummers). We made an album in 1987 called Taking Trains, and I’ve re-written the title track, mashing it up with another B-Time song from back then, “Promises.” Here’s how that turned out.
14 WAKE UP, WE’RE IN LOVE
When we were talking about making a new LTH record, Scott reminded me of this one that he’d sent me a demo of years ago. He tells me I wrote the first two lines and he took it from there, but I have no recollection of that. I loved recording this. Perhaps you’ll crank it up and do the Watusi in your living room.