Song of the Week – Hudson Line, Mercury Rev


Back in 1998, Mercury Rev, a band from upstate New York was about to record their fourth album. Their first three had received some critical acclaim, but virtually no commercial success at home in the U.S.

The band fell into drug and alcohol abuse, sold most of their instruments and could see their demise rapidly approaching. With that as the backdrop, the band members — essentially Jonathan Donahue (vocals, guitars) and “Grasshopper” (guitars, clarinet) — assumed the new album, Deserter’s Songs, would be their last. But in Deserter’s Songs the band delivered a gem. It garnered high praise in the UK where it was voted Album of the Year by both NME and Mojo. But the album has still been heard by few here in the U.S.

Deserter’s Songs is a very quirky album of music. Less reliant on guitars, the band used keyboards (piano and mellotron), flugelhorns and even a bowed saw. They sound a bit like the Flaming Lips (especially the thin vocals) or My Morning Jacket, but with more dreamy orchestration.

The SotW is “Hudson Line.”

The tune is about getting out of New York City on the Hudson Line train up to the Catskills, where the album was recorded, to “get back to the land and set my soul free.” In fact, Mercury Rev was able to take advantage of their proximity to other Catskill musicians and recruited Garth Hudson (The Band) to play sax on “Hudson Line.” They also persuaded Levon Helm to play drums on “Opus 40,” another great track on the album.

Most of the cuts on Deserter’s Songs were written and sung by Donahue but Grasshopper wrote and sang “Hudson Line” so it has a slightly different feel from the rest of the album. It’s both bluesy and jazzy.

Deserter’s Songs should really be experienced from start to finish in one sitting. It is available on Spotify for your listening pleasure, so give it a try.

Enjoy… until next week.

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