There are few more iconoclastic images of progress than the locomotive, preferably steam-powered. An obvious symbol of industrialization, the train replaced the chariot as the mode of transport to heaven or correspondingly to hell, brought lovers together or sped them apart, and offered a one-way ticket out of poverty to the promised land of freedom and prosperity. Its rail lines could be lonely or feted, its conductors and engineers idolized. Trains were the ultimate metaphor and the enduring image of a fast-growing and even faster-moving country. No wonder then so many artists memorialized the train in song. Black Diamond Express to Hell takes listeners on a scintillating journey back in time and across the musical landscape. 27 songs strong, bookended by the title track sermon, this set is a musical train spotter's dream come true. Stopping off to visit hillbillies and country stars, big-band legends and blues greats, and careening merrily from jazz to boogie, R&B to blues, mountain music to classic country, and speeding around the decades, this is one hell of a trip. Thankfully, Ozit Records has hired an expert conductor, Steve Hardstaff, for the journey. His exceptional liner notes not only annotate every song, but make sense of the seemingly jumbled sequencing, scattering nuggets of information for train enthusiasts along the way. Considering all the detail and knowledge he includes within, we may perhaps be seeing the beginnings of a fascinating book in the making. The music itself is equally riveting in its diversity and the myriad ways in which trains are addressed. A phenomenal trawl through the express lines to fame and the forgotten routes through forlorn pastures of Americana.
Review by Jo-Ann Greene