Almost all the train songs featured here are train songs because of their lyrical content, but we have a different brand of train song today, one that uses the sound of an actual train. Water Liars are a two-piece group from Mississippi, with just drum and guitar instrumentation, who specialize in bleak, mostly acoustic folk songs that occasionally rock a little harder and burst open with waves of distortion. Their new album, Wyoming just came out a month or two ago, and its a moving collection of sad tales of failing relationships. Definitely worth checking out if you’re into the darker side of folk music.
“On the Day” is off their first record, Phantom Limb, and its a dirge-like song about death and what will happen on the day the singer dies. He is tortured by the lies he told over the course of his life and has “no more excuses” for the way he treated people close to him. This extraordinarily break deathbed confession and sparse acoustic arrangement is made more haunting by the squeals, creaks, rattling, and rustling winds of a passing train in the background. The song, and the entire album, ends with two minutes of train sounds, fading out slowly as the train passes by. Its a stunning way to not only end a song about death, but to close out a record as well. Its the type of ending that demands that the listener start the whole album over again, and considering the amount of play I have given Phantom Limb, its quite effective.
For a bonus, train-related video from the group. Here is the singer performing Dog Eaten, one the standout tracks from Phantom Limb, by one of his favorite spots, a highway overpass next to some train tracks. The train sounds from “On the Day” could very well have come from this spot.
Incidentally, the area the band is from also has some storied railroad history. Until the Illinois Central railroad shifted its main track west through the Delta, north Mississippi towns like Oxford, Holly Springs and Water Valley were major stopping points on this vital corridor linking Chicago and New Orleans. The band’s hometown, Water Valley housed repair shops for the company and was the site of labor strife in the 1870s. All that’s left in many of these towns now is a decrepit depot, or faded train tracks. I am a total sucker for decaying remnants of rail history, so one of these days I am going to have to visit the area to search out spots like the one in this video.