One Track Mind: Stevie Coyle – "Train On The Brain" (2009)

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by S. Victor Aaron

A few weeks ago, with little warning, my office got transferred from the cozy suburbs to the concrete jungle. Stranded in a 7th floor cube farm in the middle of Gotham about 30 miles from home and averse to sitting still on freeways, it was time to take advantage of public transportation in the form of light rail. You might say that lately, I’ve had “train on the brain.”

And wouldn’t you know, that’s the name of a pretty cool tune I’ve been listening to a lot of late. Brought to me courtesy of one Stevie Coyle, this song is part of an epic 21-track theme album of Mr. Coyle he calls Ten In One. As he described in an interview last year, Ten In One is a concept about “one fellow’s trip to the sideshow” and as Mr. Coyle himself was once part of the circus, he brings the sounds and aural imagery of scenes under and around the Big Top from an expert perspective. Coyle is no clown, though (although as a former stand-up comedian he does like to clown around); he’s a musician, a singer, composer and damned fine fingerpicker and slide guitarist. Perhaps best known for his frontman role in the irreverent, anything-goes acoustic string folk troupe The Waybacks, Coyle struck out on his own recently and began work on a record that evolved to the the this product being discussed here.

Ten In One sprawls across musical styles, from folk and bluegrass, to soft rock and tinges of the Indian subcontinent. The famous 43 second note that ends the Beatles “Day In The Life” on the first track announces that the album is Coyle’s own Sgt. Pepper but unlike that Fab Four masterwork, this one pretty much stays true to the theme throughout, complete with short “interstitial bits” of sounds of the circus that act as segueways between the songs. With this story and the zaniness that often accompanies it are some serious musicality, and Coyle brought in an impressive list of players to help assure that: Mike Marshall, Philip Aaberg, Kit Walker, Hank Roberts, Sam Bevan, Kendrick Freeman, Corinne West, Heidi Clare, Marla Fibish, Teresa Tudury, Mike Phelan, Rachel Tree, Misty Browning, Rich DePaolo and Dr. Robby Virus. Walter Straus produced the record.

But, back to the song.

“Train On The Brain” isn’t just a convenient tie-in for the latest episode in my professional career, it really is one of the strongest songs on Coyle’s album. While most train-themed songs rumble at the speed of a locomotive at full bore, this rail rider lumbers along at a more leisurely pace. Employing a simple arrangement of acoustic guitar, acoustic bass, percussion, Kit Walker’s B3 organ, and little else, Mr. Coyle spins a tale of a train trip gone awry that holds the listener’s attention through seven verses using a narrator’s voice that alternately murmurs in a low growl and sings. He feeds the lyrics with metaphors like an engineer feeding old train engine with coal:

Peggin’ that speedo / boiler’s gonna blow
But she’ll be aboard in seconds / just a mile to go
Then watch the train go in the tunnel, you know what that mean
Time to roll the credits, begin the beguine

Throughout he drops in cultural references to “Froggie Went A-Courting,” David Bowie’s “Space Odyssey,” Chuck Berry and who knows what else. Admittedly I can’t decipher where the story is going but the scenery on the journey is too interesting to care. Somewhere in the middle Mr. Coyle even allows that he’s enjoying spinning those vivid phrases when he beams “He’s a libido torpedo really ballin’ the jack/I love imagery that’s subtle, like a heart attack.”

My own train rides to the office aren’t quite that thrilling (and glad they aren’t) but it’s hard not to enjoy a catchy melody, some nifty fingerpicking and a yarn about a steam locomotive. Stevie Coyle knows that the same things that made audiences smile and grin in the middle of the 20th century can make them smile and grin in the beginning of the 21st.

Visit Stevie Coyle’s site here.

Purchase: Stevie Coyle – Ten In One

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on,, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at
S. Victor Aaron

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