Girl Friday #11: Freight Train Mama
Pardon that brief GF hiatus while I wished Jim a happy birthday and wished my Earth Day friends some luck this weekend, yadda, yadda. Now, back to Girl Friday.
Bluegrass has its subgenres, one of the foremost being murder ballads, most of which we'll get to right here on GF. . Another favorite subset, for me, oddly enough, are the train songs. From hot instrumentals -- lest we forget the Orange Blossom Special -- to mournful ballads, to spiffy tunes, there are trains to ride in Bluegrass.
I think the energy behind a lot of train songs is what I like about them. The birth of the train as it changed America's landscape is a big deal. Imagine the change in so many things as a result of building the nation's networks of train routes from east to west, north to south and back. The advent of travel by train changed commerce, labor, consumerism, travel, education, demography, public policy, and yes, music too. More than just subject matter for the American folklorist, trains truly broke new ground in almost every area of American life, turning a corner for the modern era.
I love the fact that trains often are referred to in the feminine in lore and legend, by historians and folk ramblers. Why not? They are powerful, driven, nearly unstoppable, and ever on a mission. I know many women like that, and I'm sure I've been compared to an oncoming train by a few folks. I don't consider it an insult. Where once I was more easily "stopped in my tracks" I no longer feel it necessary to hesitate, ruminate, or brake for ever second thought that crosses my mind when it comes to minding myself and my children. Trains' bellies are filled with fire; the more I trust my own gut, the sooner I find that I get results.
Jim of My Boring Best (see previous post) shares a birthday with the reigning Queen of England. I was thinking about her watching old clips on the news. Queen Elizabeth II would never compare herself to a train, but, let's face it, you don't get anywhere as head of one of the world's most historically brutal monarchies without a little chutzpah. You have to sort of barrel through a whole mess of dangerous passes, yet with taste and decorum. I'm not much of a fan of the monarchy but I'll give her that.
There's little question that Rhonda Vincent is considered by many the reigning queen of Bluegrass (all you lurking Alison Krauss fans, just calm down). She and her drivin' band, the Rage, have a hot number called Kentucky Borderline, which I just love. It just gets me going when I'm down, when I'm having a rough morning, or when I feel like I need to kick a little gr-ass. One of the best things about this song is that it highlights the benchmarking talent in Rhonda's band -- Hunter Berry on fiddle, the spectacular Josh Williams on guitar, and the legendary Jerry Ingram on banjo. The not to be outdone Mr. Ed Harris fills in on bass; all are songwriters, too. If Rhonda and the Rage pull into a station near you, make sure you get out to hear 'em.
She pulled out of Mobile in the pouring rain,
Moving through the darkness like a hurricane.
From southern New Port waters to the Cumberland so green,
Louisville by Nashville and all points in between.
Pounding out a rhythm making up lost time,
Heading for that bluegrass state of mine.
(Chorus)White smoke a rollin'
Whistle a blowin'
Listening to her engine keeping time
Montgomery in the morning
Birmingham by noon,
Onward through the distance upward to the moon.
Her lonesome whistle cries a low sighed refrain,
Like the boys down on Mill street singing of the pain.
No one is gonna stop her from her appointed rounds,
This train is moving on, she's glory bound.
Her lungs are full of fire breathing burning coal,
A raging locomotion like thunder when it rolls.
Singing for the mighty who cast her molten steel,
Drawed the spike and layed the rail to ride beneath her wheels.
The pride of our nation she's a monument to them,
A southern bell that mighty L&N