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Album Review

Jeffrey Halford fills Railbirds with looks at hard-bitten lives that hold more sadness and disappointment than joy and bliss. He sings — with a little sarcasm and a little resignation — in the opening song, "Denial," "to expect happiness now, wish me good luck." Later, in "Watching the Trains," he observes, "You can work your whole lifetime and never get it right," and in "Out on the Run," he states: "I'm running from what I've become...Oh, my God, I pray to thee/Give me back my memory." This lost soul theme probably is best summarized in the aptly entitled "Purgatory," a swampy noir tale about the place where you "sit there and wait" while contemplating your life. The San Francisco-based Halford also works this sense of personal dislocation into songs like "South of Bakersfield," in which a man reminisces about a pretty hitchhiker he once picked up, and the introspective "Safe at Home," which examines a post-9/11 world. Halford, however, is at his storytelling best on "Watching the Trains," "Rent to Own," and the title track. In the first, a man ponders a lost love as he whiles away his nights watching trains. "Rent to Own," a John Hiatt-like rave-up, niftily and swiftly compares a relationship to automobiles, while the latter tune poetically looks at the passing of time through the eyes of a horse racetrack aficionado. Halford delivers his world-weary sentiments with an appropriately gruff voice, but one that never gets too gravelly or grave. His backing band, the Healers, perfectly complements these rough-hewn tunes by serving up gritty roots rock that draws in blues, soul, country, and folk. Halford himself contributes some fine work on the National Reso-Phonic slide guitar, while he gets additional support from guitarist Chuck Prophet, longtime Sir Douglas Quintet organist Augie Meyers, and ex-Counting Crows drummer Steve Bowman. Despite his tough exterior, Halford can also be remarkably tender, as he displays in the wonderfully loving ode to a baby daughter "Hannah Ruth." In fact, he concludes the disc on a relatively upbeat note with "Vancouver Rain," a love song brimming with hopefulness. Packed with sharply written tunes as well as meaty roots rock, Railbirds should help to propel Halford up through the ranks and into Americana's upper echelon.

Railbirds, Jeffrey Halford and The Healers
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