WHEELING - Matt Heusel, guitarist, singer and main songwriter for the Trainjumpers, is the kind of guy with a slow West Virginia drawl laced with a working-class empathy.
He's humble about his band, particularly about the band's latest studio album, "Wide-Eyed Tragic Myth," an ambitious and sometimes-riveting snapshot of blue-collar America laden with infectious grooves and stark imagery that belies the message underneath - that the American dream isn't what it used to be.
Recorded in 2011 both at Rick Witkowski's Studio L in Weirton and Tim Boyd of Perpetual Harmony Studio in Wheeling and released on the band's own Flying Boxcar label in January, the audacious album tells a story of modern America that many are sensing - the country isn't what it used to be.
The Trainjumper’s newest release, “Wide-Eyed Tragic Myth,” is a song cycle about the demise of the American dream mixed with joyous and defiant grooves that belies the sometimes-stark lyrics.
Heusel - an immediately likable guy who says "bro" and "brother" a lot, and means it -said the band has been together for the past six years, and the first two records, "Bring on the Trainjumpers" and "The Trainjumpers Deadtown," brought it a local audience.
"We had a regional hit for the Wheeling-Pittsburgh area in 2007," said Heusel. "We just played a packed house in Columbus at the Woodlands Tavern.
"We're having to travel to play our originals," continued Heusel. "We've been playing in Clarksburg and and Morgantown, trying to build up a following. We've also been playing the Thunderbird Cafe in Lawrenceville, Pa. We're doing OK there. We're also going to play the Wheeling Heritage Port Amphitheater May 28."
The band, which also currently includes Clifton Landis on guitar, Brian Gorby on drums, Travis Hoard - son of guitarist Roger Hoard - on saxophone and Scott Boyd on bass, is a groove machine, taking its strong rhythm section on a musical tour of Americana tempered with reggae, funk, soul and hip hop. The album's strong lyrical content is influenced by social activist Woody Guthrie, author John Steinbeck and the beat poets and writers of the 1950s. Musically, the influence of the Clash is all over the place. Heusel said he was purposely trying to make a statement while not being overtly political.
"I was really stretching on the lyrics," said Heusel. "I was really studying the beats and the American searcher. You don't find the answers anymore. There's all this despair."
While the message is sometimes bleak, it's also poetic and several notches above what most bands have to say. But Heusel said he's not afraid the lyrical content may turn some off, and people in the area are ready to hear music with substance they also can dance to.
Local rapper Righteous B also makes a few cameos on the record. Heusel said the band is hoping to score gigs in the Steubenville area soon.
"We're going to start playing up in Steubenville at the Franciscan University of Steubenville," he said.
"Now, everyone can go to our website at www.trainjumpers.com and download the album for free."
(Miller can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)