Graveyard Train – The Drink the Devil and the Dance

January 01, 1970



Let’s face it: roots rock or or Americana or whatever the hell you want to
call it has gotten way too…safe. Predictable. Cuddly, even. But fear not –
Graveyard Train is here to save Americana
from the blahs. Never mind that the band is from Australia. Actually, that is
significant – the Australians have a tradition of taking American musical
traditions and giving them a savage beating until they fight back.


So it is on The Drink
the Devil and the Dance
, the debut LP from this Melbourne sextet. Using naught but acoustic
instruments, including prominent banjo and dobro, a full-time percussionist
whose forte is a hammer and chain and backing vocals that sound like a prison
gang, the band eschews pretty love songs and stories about hardworking folks
just getting by. Instead Graveyard Train prefers to ponder becoming a werewolf
(“Bit By a Dog”), carry various destructive implements to a house of ill repute
(“Let’s March Boys”) and give mundane life to the strolling dead (“Mummy”). But
the combo’s real obsession is death in its many guises – baking in the desert
(“Lay to the West”), lost in the woods (“Run Billy Run”), divine retribution
(“A Tall Shadow”) and, of course, romantic suicide (“Lover’s Leap”). Not just
the methods interest this lot, mind you – the band also explores the mourning
process (“Funeral,” sung from the POV of the corpse), the implications of decay
(“The Bones Do the Work,” which offers the helpful advice “So don’t you cry
when the shark swims up and grins at you/She’s just helping you get where
you’re going to”) and the journey to an unhappy afterlife (“The Ferryman”).


As gloomy as the band’s hopes and dreams seem to be, they’re
performed with a mixture of dread, wonder and even celebration – death is
coming no matter what, after all, so you might as well meet it with either a
shrug of your shoulders or a snarl in your throat. Raising banjos and chains to
the sky, Graveyard Train drags folk music to its grave, digs it back up and
parades it around the room decked out in beer cans and a cowboy hat.


Bones Do the Work,” “Let’s March Boys,” “A Tall Shadow” MICHAEL TOLAND

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