Thursday, October 19, 2017

CD Odyssey Disc 1063: Iron Horse

I was standing at the bus stop this morning when a woman pulled up, rolled down her window, and told me that she drove by me every morning and thought I looked great. She said my wardrobe always puts a smile on her face. It was a hell of a great way to start my Thursday, and the pleasant affirmation of it all stuck with me all day.

So, Unknown Lady, thanks for passing along a little joy to a stranger. It’s people like you that make a rainy day sunny around the edges.

Disc 1063 is…Take Me Home: The Bluegrass Tribute to Guns N’ Roses
Artist: Iron Horse

Year of Release: 2007

What’s up with the Cover? As you might expect, the Guns N’ Roses logo with a twist. Here the guns cross instead of point in opposite directions, and there is a skull with a top hat, no doubt because Iron Horse felt they needed to amp up the badassery of the log to make up for the lack of Slash’s electric guitar.

How I Came To Know It: I was in Vancouver on a holiday and saw it at the downtown HMV (when it used to exist). I had never heard it, but knew I had to have it based on the premise alone.

How It Stacks Up:  Iron Horse has done a whole bunch of these bluegrass cover albums, but this is the only one I have, so it can’t really stack up.

Ratings: 1 mandolin, 1 violin and half a banjo, but since I don’t give out half-banjos…2 stars.

Have you ever wondered what Guns N’ Roses would sound like if it was a bluegrass band? I’m going to guess that you haven’t, but never fear – Iron Horse has done the wondering for you. In fact, they’ve gone ahead and recorded a bunch of bluegrass covers of Guns N’ Roses for your listening pleasure. And also for hilarity, since who doesn’t love a little hilarity?

In turning all these raunchy rock and roll songs into bluegrass, Iron Horse follows a pretty basic formula. Make sure everyone plays at the front of the beat, switch all the guitar solos for banjos and violins, and keep the beat with a mandolin instead of a drum.

The best thing about this album is the band plays it straight. They’re not hamming it up, or goofing off – they are just playing these songs as a bluegrass band. The banjo trills along and the boys sing in tight harmony as they drain out all of Axl Rose’s angry growl and replace it with something you might expect to hear walking past a stage made of hay bales at a country fair. Only in this case, you stop and turn to your companion to say “are they singing what I think they’re singing?”

When there is a Slash guitar solo, the band goes with banjo or violin, and it works pretty well. Although the violin feels a bit more appropriate to Slash’s original intent, both are pretty fun.
Another fun fact: it is a tradition that there is no swearing in bluegrass. This made songs like “Mr. Brownstone” and “Out Ta Get Me” even more fun, as Iron Horse came up with creative ways to remove all the f-bombs and sex act references from these songs. The old man in “Mr. Brownstone” becomes a “real troublemaker”. On “Out Ta Get Me” there are no invitations for the people out to get the narrator to perform a sex act. Instead the band opts to repeat a previous line and let bygones be bygones. Knowing how the song is supposed to go makes all this Victorian ankle-covering even more enjoyable.

Converting songs to bluegrass works better when the songs have a more country-style chord progression, and songs like “Dead Horse” and “Yesterdays” come out much better than most as a result. “Dead Horse” in particular, feels like it was written for this style that gave me a new appreciation for the original.

Classics like “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “Paradise City” are also standouts. “Paradise City’s” chorus lends itself well to harmonies, and “Sweet Child O’ Mine” is just a great song in any style. Also, hearing a violin and then a mandolin play Slash’s solos is something you don’t want to miss. You don’t want a steady diet of it, but you should hear it at least once before you’re on the wrong side of the bluegrass, if you take my meanin’.

Sorry about that wanton apostrophe, I reckon listenin’ to this stuff for too long will make anyone lose an occasional ‘g’.

But I digress…

On the not so fun side, I found the banjo a bit too similar on all the tracks and I think they could’ve done more with it than just have it replace the rhythm guitar. Also, while singer Vance Henry sings OK he is no powerhouse like Axl Rose, and he could have used a bit more emotional oomph in his delivery, particularly on heartfelt tracks like “Patience.”

Mostly though, this album is a fun and heartfelt homage to the original tracks. It is obviously a labour of love by a band who long ago decided there were no barriers bluegrass couldn’t overcome in reaching new audiences.

Best tracks: Dead Horse, Yesterdays, Sweet Child O’ Mine, Paradise City

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