Here's the original four-track demo of my Last Train Home review from today's Paper of Record: Like a grimace breaking into a smile, local heroes-gone-Nashville Last Train Home opened their set at IOTA Friday in a serious mood: “Flood,” a tremolo-drenched lament from their new “Last Good Kiss” album, is a solid track, and the band — in its mighty seven-piece incarnation with trumpeter Kevin Cordt, pedal/lap steel player Dave Van Allen, and keyboardist/accordionist Jen Gunderman — mined it for its every anguished note. But it’s the recognition of how narrow be the slit between humor and pathos that distinguishes frontman Eric Brace’s best songs, so it was a happy thing that nothing in the two-plus hours of soulful country-rock that followed was as somber (or as sober) as that opening number. Despite the hues that mystery and melancholy that Cordt and Van Allen, especially, brought to tunes like “Dogs on the East Side” or the Harry Nilsson-esque “You,” the evening’s general vibe was that of a loose-limbed good old time.
Journalistic ethics compel us to disclose that Brace is a former Washington Post staffer. (Also a gentleman, scholar, champion of the oppressed, friend to animals, and generally opposed to things like global warming and genocide.) Don’t hate him because he also happens to be the charismatic leader of what has become, in the decade since its beginnings as a nights-and-weekends kind of thing, a justly celebrated professional outfit, or because he’s got the songwriting chops to come up with a tune like “Louisiana.” That one was the evening’s highlight, bookending a rambling medley that lassoed Merle Haggard’s “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down” Rodney Crowell’s “Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This” and the Louvin Brothers’ “Are You Wasting My Time,” and holding its own in such prestigious company. Brace & Co. fought back laughter throughout the number, perhaps because Gunderman kept having to stand up and strap on her accordion back on or sit down at the keyboard whenever Brace shifted tunes. This band is good enough that they needn’t rely on such clowning, but it does make them all the easier to love.