Review Summary: The humble beginnings of a highly underrated band.
Back in what now seems like a very long time ago, my music tastes were still in their early stages of evolution. The musical genre I lauded most was 'pop-punk'. Bands such as blink-182
, A New Found Glory
, and Sum 41
comprised my early high school soundtrack. Being a fan of this genre, I was naturally inclined toward checking out Drive-Thru Records bands, which included such heavy hitters as Senses Fail
, and Something Corporate
. In 2003, the label released a compilation album entitled "Drive-Thru Invasion Tour", which gave a rabid pop-punk fan like myself the chance to hear unreleased tracks from my favorite artists, as well as the opportunity to check out newer groups that were just starting up with label. Many of the tracks piqued my interest, but the last one in particular really stood out. It was Steel Train's "Blown Away", and it sounded totally different from anything else I was listening to at the time. My naive mind in those days had the tendency to push away any music that didn't sound like every other band I was listening to, but this song was just so damn beautiful, I couldn't help but upload it to my Real Media Player (in the days before I was acclimated with iTunes) and take an occasional listen. As I got older, my musical tastes expanded significantly, and many of the bands that I listened to as an emotionally wound-up high school kid failed to excite the same passions as they once did. No matter how many times that I revamped my music library however, "Blown Away" would always be a part of the collection. I eventually became stupefied to how this had been the only Steel Train cut in my entire library, and on one impulsive day I decided to download practically their entire discography off of iTunes, with the For You My Dear EP being the first choice.
For You My Dear was the first material released by the band in 2003. The EP is comprised of six relatively straightforward songs that range from excellent to average. Though perhaps not a monumental debut, For You My Dear shows the band just starting to hone in on their sound. Looking at this EP and then comparing it to their subsequent releases Twilight Tales From the Prairies of the Sun (2005) and Trampoline (2007), one can see how much the band has evolved in a fairly short time. For You My Dear starts off with Blown Away
, which serves as an excellent introduction to both the band and the disc. The songs starts off simply enough with singer Scott Irby-Ranniar crooning over a strummed acoustic guitar. Ranniar has a rather unique voice, but it works very well with this type of music. After this initial introduction, the song really takes off when the guitar is joined by some light percussive work and an incredibly tasteful bass line that will accompany it to the end. The song is constructed immaculately, and the unique driving chords, bass fills, and jazz-influenced drumming fit together in perfect harmony. There is a wonderful interlude that features a short but sweet piano 'solo' that also sounds very jazzy. The final segment of this song truly is what makes it special. After a short break, a new chord progression is introduced with a soaring multi-layered vocal accompaniment that never fails to raise the hairs on my neck when I'm listening to it. The song always reminds me of a perfect summer day coming to a close, and the almost melancholy sounding piano outro seems to reinforce this thought for me. Unfortunately, when you start off your EP with the best song, you only can go down from there. That is not saying however, that what follows should be ignored. Following Blown Away is Alley Cat
, which features another awesome bass line over a subdued bossa nova groove. A flamenco sounding guitar punctuates the vocal sections, which Ranniar sings with an emotion that I can only describe as longing. This is another very well done track that really shows how well the band can play in the pocket while Ranniar takes center stage. The next track is Angelica
, which I can safely say is my least favorite on the album. After a somewhat dull introduction, the track meanders along between the more subdued clean passages and a more raw sounding segment that features a lightly distorted guitar and more aggressive vocals. The constant musical juxtapositions that are featured in this song only seem to distract attention from the overall picture. This is followed by the short interlude W. 12th
which shows off guitarist Jack Antonoff's very impressive finger-picking skills but also holds its own as a pretty composition. The next track is For You My Dear
, which starts off with a minor sounding guitar progression that evokes a somber mood that will continue throughout the entire piece. The end of this track shows a side of the band that would be seen more on Twilight Tales, as Antonoff plays a tasteful and very interesting guitar solo over a rhythm section that sounds much more aggressive than at any other point on the album. The album closes with Night Falls
, which is a simple acoustic piece with Ranniar's vocal accompaniment. The song itself is nothing special as far as acoustic tracks go, but it serves as a straightforward way to end the album, and truly does give the melancholy feeling of night approaching.
The fact that Drive-Thru Records signed this band is a bizarre thought. They sounded completely different from anything else on the label, drawing most of their influence from the music of prior generations. This is probably a big reason why they have continuously slipped under the radar despite releasing truly unique albums that can satisfy music lovers of any age. This EP was only the beginning for Steel Train, but one can always return to these songs and admire the humble beginnings of this highly underrated band.