The Hotshot Freight Train
Alt-country act The Hotshot Freight Train carries the flag for historically preserving East Tennessee culture through its songs, centered on regional storytelling. Songs of growing up in East Tennessee and the values instilled by such an upbringing have become an increased focus over the act's seven years, and the recent addition of Jay Birkbeck on keys, accordion and saxophone serves to further this regional emphasis instrumentally. The Hotshot Freight Train's upcoming release "Get Low" may be its best representation yet of modern Appalachian life.
The album "Get Low" has no intentional relation to the movie of the same name, but like the 2010 film set in East Tennessee, the release details life and death in Appalachia, with its name alluding to regional slang for death/dying. Recorded in Nashville in late 2011, "Get Low" is the first release since 2009's "Poetic Devices and Personal Vices" and demonstrates the band's honing of its distinct sound and mission.
"'Get Low' is an even greater step into storytelling than 'Poetic Devices'" says vocalist/bassist Joshua Tipton. "We really made a conscious effort to give great depth to every step of the process lyrically, musically and vocally. ... I don't know that any of us would say that we have become better musicians over the last three years, but we have developed a better understanding of what we want our sound to be and a focus on what we jokingly refer to as 'narrative rock.'
"'Get Low' is a collection of our stories — some of them shaped by our own lives and the lives of those we held dear, some of them have been shared with us by others. ... For example, the first track 'Boys from Tennessee' is based on some of our experiences growing up in East Tennessee and our family's emphasis on hard work. The tag line 'boys from Tennessee finish what they start' was a saying our grandfather and his father used to emphasize dedication and perseverance. The track 'Ghost of Eugene Debs' is named for Eugene V. Debs, who is typically considered to be the father of the labor movement and workers' unions in the United States, but is based on the story of our father being forced into early retirement after working for the same company for nearly 30 years. ... Not every one of the songs on this record is personal, but we hope that every one of them is personal for someone. They are our tribute to our home, our families and our ancestors."
In addition to locally inspired lyrics and instrumentation, the album's inserts offer local art and one song on the album features an eight-person choir made up of current and former students from Clinton High School, where the Tipton brothers (Joshua and Caleb) attended and now work.
"What we really wanted to do was create something that involved our community as much as possible," Tipton points out. "The album art was designed by Anna Waychoff of True Blue Electric Tattoo in Knoxville, the artwork for the back panel was painted by Angela Brown, a student from the school Caleb and I work at and four of us graduated from. The choir used on the song 'Mountain to Nowhere' is made up of some current and former members of the Clinton High and Powell High School show choirs. We had so much help from our community beyond just the inspiration for the stories we tried to tell through song."
But the homage to East Tennessee doesn't stop there. The Hotshot Freight Train will commit revenue from sales of "Get Low" to local charities and community efforts, crediting the ability to do so to a close-knit, five-year relationship with the Future Destination Records label and its founder/operator Matthew Jenkins.
Saturday night Hotshot Freight Train unveils its new album with a show at The Well. Also performing are Matt Woods and Fifth on the Floor. The show is slated for 10 p.m. and costs $5.
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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