Lackawanna Rail,
I Think You Should Know
(RockGrass, 2006)

With a hodgepodge of referential musical styles, stretching from the early 1960s all the way through the '70s, Lackawanna Rail's debut album I Think You Should Know covers a lot of nostalgic ground. And don't let "nostalgic" have a negative connotation. All too often, the use of nostalgia implies an absence of originality. While a valid critique for some, it certainly doesn't apply in Lackawanna Rail's case. The band utilizes a twofold strategy for nostalgia. One is nostalgia for youth and the other is a musical nostalgia. In this case, the era of the band's youth more than likely occurred in that particular musical era; however, the dual nostalgic themes can be appreciated by all ages.

"I Still Remember" is a stroll down memory lane in more ways than one. While the lyrics refer to the singer's youth, the musical style enforces the theme by harkening to early '60s doo-wop. (Or in this instance, it's more "shoo-doop, shooby-doo-waaa.") Check out the style of "What is Truth" (especially the background/supporting vocals); you'll half expect Ed Sullivan or Dick Clark to come out after the song is over.

There are other songs that allude to that early '60s era, even in the naming of the songs. Remember all the songs about a particular girl: Peggy Sue, Barbara Ann, Chantilly Lace, Mary Lou, etc.? There are two songs on this album that follow suit, but stand out individually as delightful songs. "Judy's Song" primarily relies on the vocals, employing an especially nice harmonization in the chorus. "Valerie," on the other hand, takes a faster rock pace and has a stronger emphasis on instruments, especially the drums and electric guitar.

"Quiet Rock," "That's Alright" and "I Don't Want to be Right" take on the slow and easy '70s rock style, kind of Allman Brothers mixed with a mellow version of George Thorogood. These songs are rather good, but the early '60s songs are the strongest of the musical nostalgia bunch.

The songs that tackle the nostalgic views of youth take a variable point of view. It can be a current look back at youth while being in an older/elderly role, a look back at that experience as a youth or a current look for the present-day young'uns. For instance, "That Look in Your Eyes" is a heartfelt, sentimental song that will be adored by every little girl's daddy, and probably every daddy's little girl. It doesn't take the saccharine route; instead it offers an honest look at the father-daughter dynamic and the persistence of love despite life's many obstacles. "Loving Me" is similar, except it explores the mother-son relationship.

The benefit of nostalgia is also hindsight. Yet in looking back at musical performers, there seems to be a lot of focus in how they finish/end up, rather than how they started. Sure, everyone knows the importance of a strong finish, but starts are given much more leeway. For some reason, starts are given a hefty allowance and plenty of room for forgiveness. There are slow starts, stuttering starts and even faulty starts. But rarely are strong starts given the praise they deserve. Well, Lackawanna Rail deserves praise for this debut album. I Think You Should Know is indubitably a strong start, and has just the right approach to nostalgia.

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review by
C. Nathan Coyle

28 July 2007

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