Westbound Train
Westbound Train While many of us fear it, change can often yield remarkable results. And in the case of Transitions, the aptly-titled 2006 Hellcat Records debut from Boston’s acclaimed ska septet, Westbound Train, alterations in membership and label allegiance have only served to strengthen a band already known to genre aficionados for its live work ethic. If Transitions is easily the group’s most honest effort yet – following up its earlier independent releases, Searching for A Melody (Megalith Records/2002) and Five To Two (Stomp Records/2004) – it’s also an experience in the true Westbound Sound. That is, a bridge between ‘60s staples like reggae, soul and blues and modern approaches with touches of jazz and country here and there. Evidence of this approach is first detected on the disc opener, “Please Forgive Me,” where the exuberant pulse of ska is the foundation for a dialogue between generations. “It’s kind of like when the apprentice surpasses his mentor, if the mentor is too prideful that can be a tough thing for him to swallow,” singer and trombonist Obi Fernandez observes. Speaking of bitter pills, Fernandez is also quick to cite “For The First Time,” which – in spite of its buoyant, horn laden tact – documents the family struggles that ensue when one stands by their dreams. “It’s hard to do what we do,” he concedes. “It’s even harder when your loved ones have a different set of goals for you or don’t really understand exactly what it is you are trying to do.” “We want to create honest music for people – to put out records that are both beautiful and emotional,” principal songwriter Fernandez explains of Transitions, an album designed to reflect the real life experiences of the band, which also counts Eric Novod, Johnny DeCarlo, Thad Merritt, Rich Graiko, Gideon Blumenthal and Josh Cohen. It’s that collective ambition that prompted Westbound to work furiously honing the sound that caught the attention of Hellcat founder Tim Armstrong one year earlier, when a demo was passed on to him at a Transplants show in their hometown. A kinship with Armstrong developed that led to Westbound’s invitation to California to guest on Skinhead Rob’s album and the then-forthcoming major label debut from the Transplants. Despite the excitement, Westbound Train’s touring obligations kept them grounded, even if they were sharing the stage with heavy hitters like The Toasters, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, The Street Dogs, Reel Big Fish and the originators of Ska themselves, The Skatalites Winning over converts with each respective tour date, Westbound performances are fueled by groove and enthusiasm, yet grounded in expert musical skill. It’s that verve and soul that the group aspired to capture and succeeded in doing during studio sessions for what would become Transitions. Fast forward to the completion of Westbound Train’s initial Hellcat offering and moments of brilliance abound – from the stellar, groove-saturated “Soul Revival” to the piano-twinkled, horn swaying fun of “Fatty Boom Boom!” Yet just when one might expect the Westbound Sound to wane, the inventive, epic closer “Travel On” carries the listener home with a hypnotic, soulful reggae swoon. “That’s probably my favorite track on the record,” Fernandez confesses. “The message is simple: Westbound Train is going to continue doing what we do regardless of whatever obstacles may turn up. We are determined to leave our mark on the music world and we want to accomplish that together as a family.” If the warmth and brightness of Transitions – where highly danceable Ska arrangements and rocksteady beats are in ample supply – is any indication, Westbound Train should go the distance.