You know by now I'm a pretty picky guy when it comes to music.
Not in the sense that I'm not eclectic. I own more than 6,000 CDs that run the gamut from punk to classical and everything in between. The one constant that runs through everything I listen to is that it's good music. I mean, really good music.
I can love John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" every bit as much as I can love "Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols." The common thread is that both of these records speak to a certain something in me.
So because even people in my household think I have "high standards" - what others might call snobbery - I decided a long time ago to not review local CDs or discuss local bands in my 10 years of writing music columns.
Why? Well, it seems I did that several years ago, panned something released local and really bruised some local egos. And they were not shy in letting me know they weren't very happy with what I wrote. So, I learned my lesson.
There's also been an evolution in my thinking in my 10 years of doing this.
Now, even if I think something released locally sucks or a particular band is bad, I'm not going to go out of my way to dis them in print. I've got to give them the benefit of the doubt. It's not easy being in a band, and it's not easy writing good songs. It's even harder to play those original songs in front of people and then have it dissed in public, or worse, in print.
The big, major label CD releases, well, that's different story. I'm hardly likely to run into them at the local grocery store.
There have been perhaps dozens of local CDs that have crossed my desk here in the last 10 years. Some of them were OK, some of them contained great playing and really lackluster songs while others were just plain rotten. But there's been very little that really turned my ear or motivated me to write in a critical way.
I got the Trainjumpers CD in the mail last week. Interesting, but more of the same, I thought.
I had never heard of them, but that's not unusual. The only gigs I go to anymore are my own. In other words, I'm a 46-year-old guy totally out of touch with the local music scene. And I don't care I'm that way. I'm content.
So, I listen to this CD with my one jaded ear, expecting to hear the same old, same old. But something interesting happened.
I liked what I was hearing. Hey, this band isn't half bad, I thought. Them I listened some more. And some more. And some more.
And then I really listened, with both ears. And I discovered the Trainjumpers aren't just a good band - they are a great band. And not only are they a great band, they are a truly great band from the Ohio Valley. Hark the herald angels sing, man!
Not only is the CD that good and the band that good, I'm going to go out on a limb and say this is the best local band with the best songs I've heard that's crossed my desk in 10 years of doing this.
I don't understand how a band this good could even exist here so under my radar. And what do I find so special?
Well, first of all, it seems like in the land of Ohio Valley bands it's been a trend that the loudest band is the best band. Hey, I loved all the 1990s loud grunge bands and alt scene, but that was a long time ago. Now I want something with some dynamics, some great hooks, some subtle finesse, some history behind it.
It seems like these guys in the Trainjumpers have never listened to anything past 1975. And that's a good thing, because they understand how to play inside a groove that isn't artificial or sterile. In fact, I've never heard a local rock band that had the late 1960s, early '70s groove thing down so well.
The rhythm section is straight from late '60s Rolling Stones or the Faces, while the guitars mesh with a sensitivity to each other's playing that reminds me of some of the Stones' best stuff with guitarist Mick Taylor. But softer and more soulful, and with better players.
These young guys rock, but they also swing, funk and groove like a bunch of old guys, and they do it without the volume of a 747 jet. You can listen or you can dance to a band that grooves in a way a lot of modern bands couldn't touch or even understand. And all without ear plugs!
They seem to have absorbed the essence of the really great groove/rock, tight-but-elastic, supple rhythm sections of the classic rock era. There are elements of rock, folk, reggae, improv and soul, and all without pretension. You can tell these guys don't just play in a band together, but actually listen and react to what each other are doing. Wow. What a concept.
That's a miracle among younger guys, to play with so much transcendent, rhythmic wisdom and sensitivity.
The songs are fabulous, and have that ring of authenticity that I always listen for. But it's all wrapped in a package that's original and unique. The Trainjumpers are such a breath of fresh air in a world of lackluster bands trying to out-hip each other. They are the antithesis of what most rock bands around here try to do, which is to try to sound like Creed or Nickelback. There's a joy in the band's sound that most rock bands around here couldn't even begin to understand.
The band's new CD "Bring on the Trainjumpers" was recorded at Studio L in Weirton with Rick Witkowski manning the engineering booth. He wisely does what he should do with such a great band and stays the hell out of the way. No studio tricks, no over-Pro-Tooled gimmicks. Just live in the studio with tasteful touches of Hammond organ and a sprinkling of keyboards here and there. It was a smart move for the band to record essentially live in the studio. There's a wonderful spontaneity there, and the band is firing on all cylinders.
But words are futile when enjoying a great groove, and sometimes a damn good band is just a damn good band. You just have to hear it.
And the Trainjumpers are truly a great band. Check them out at www.myspace.com/thetrainjumpers.
(Mark Miller is co-editor of Weekender.)