The Phantom Tollbooth

You're Soaking in It
Artist: This Train
Label: Etcetera, 1995 (Out of print but available by the band)
Length: 33:24 minutes/ 11 songs
In case you missed it, here is the sturdy debut album of the band, and now phenomenon, known as This Train. Although referred to as "The Debut Album!," it is actually their label-breakthrough after releasing even shorter indie albums earlier this decade, and the album that preceded their highly-touted 1998 release, Mimes of the Old West on Organic Records. No matter where you place it in the greater This Train canon, You're Soaking in It is an album worthy of a spin.
Unlike many fledgling bands floating around these days trying to find themselves, This Train has a strong identity. They know who they are and play their brash brand of rowdy rock-and-roll like they mean it. Main man Mark Robertson's extensive experience as a musician in bands as far ranging as The Altar Boys, Allies, Brighton, The Stand, Generation, Rich Mullins's Ragamuffin Band and with Rick Elias, plays a large part in his hardy grasp of songwriting and musical chops. But compared to those bands, this beast is truly a horse of a different color. Their brand of old-time rock-a-billy with a distinctively Western American flavor is flavorful enough to brand them with their own niche. It would be incorrect to call this country music in any way, nevertheless the grand payoff is akin to power pop rock with a zesty cowpoke quality and a flair for the Fifties. Expect to hear a gutsy sound that fondly recalls the music of yesteryear, yet brought fully up to post-punk speed and bravado. Fans of bands and artists like the Bare Naked Ladies, Weezer, Hokus Pick, Steve Taylor, Ween, Rick Elias, and even John Mellancamp should sit up and take notice. At its very heart, This Train plays rollickingly fun party music. Even though to date I've never seen them in concert, the sheer fun and energy of this CD makes it easy to imagine having a grand ol' time at their concerts.

The first song gets the party kicking with a cover of Amy Grant's "Baby Baby," which also clearly shows that This Train doesn't mean for anyone to take them too seriously. Although not as hysterical as the Swirling Eddies parody of the same song on Sacred Cows, a comparison between the two bands can clearly be made here. Mark Robertson sings with a high pitched tenor, Terry Taylor quality that takes some getting used to, but once experienced delivers amply. These two bands also draw some comparisons musically in their shared passion for quirky rock 'n' roll, but of the two, This Train is more straight-forward and accessible, whereas the Swirling Eddies veer more to the bizarre and obscure. Regardless, it's easy to see fans of both bands crossing over to experience the other and finding some degree of satisfaction. Best of all, both groups have a delightful penchant for displaying their humorous whimsy in cleverly-worded lyrical bits and amusing references, like the off-the-cuff one here about Motley Crue's drummer: "Tommy Lee rules!"
Another excellent example of their priceless sense of humor is "Monstertruck," which has gone on to become a crowd-pleasing concert staple. There are far too many funny lines in that one, but, to avoid reprinting the entire set of lyrics, here is a small sample:

This Train's music isn't purely fun and games. Most of the songs center around relationships, and express seasoned truth beneath the comical veneer about the difficulty of successfully maintaining them. Of those, "That's Ex-Doormat to You" is precisely what it sounds like: Less tongue-in-cheek and more poignant is "The Silence," which exposes the real pain involved in an important friendship that abruptly grew sour and went South.  The first of two more highlights among the abundant highlights that will go unmentioned here, is the inclusion of Beki Hemingway's song, "Mary Alice." Hemingway was a bona fide member of the band on this album, and her original song is the only one that features her as the lead vocalist. Given the strength of both the songwriting and vocal performance, it is no small wonder she's enjoying a successful solo career right now. Lastly, the final song, "I Don't Mind," is offered up like a prayer to God who motivates the band. Simply and clearly stated, Robertson asks the Lord to hold fast to him no matter what, creating a beautiful and compelling ending to an album full of party favors.
Okay, one obligatory train analogy. If This Train is chugging into a town near you, make sure you catch them. In the meantime, this album is a box car of their finely crafted treasure, and as such, just one station worth stopping at along their bustling journey.
By Steven Stuart Baldwin
See the This Train - Mimes of the Old West review