Twinray – The Train You're On (2010)

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by Nick DeRiso

Twinray has produced a cloud-parting blast of pop-rock buoyancy with The Train You’re On, recorded with producer/engineer Sean O’Keefe (Plain White T’s, Fallout Boy, Hawthorn Heights). Their endless enthusiasm informs both the subject matter, and the merry experimentation that propels the Chicago-based band’s genre-bending sound.

“Do You Wanna Go,” a crisp rocker that opens The Train You’re On, signals the fun ride ahead as Twinray celebrates the open-road dreams we all harbor. “I’m ready to start living,” Desiree Irwin sings, in front of a bluesy turn by guitarist Mike Poupko and a series of funky horn blasts. “Every Day” holds a similar dust-yourself-off fervor. “You’ve got what it takes to fulfill the dream,” Irwin sings, “when so many like you run away.” Characters might stumble, but the plucky pair in Twinray won’t allow them to stay down. “You’re brighter than the brightest star,” Irwin sings.

She then turns away from the cold embrace of loneliness on the majestic “My Heart’s Not Breaking,” as Poupko lays down a lithe folk-rock lick. A fuzzy groove bolsters Poupko’s curling slide on “No Such Thing as Better,” while Irwin coos, “There’s no such thing as better – when you’ve got the best.” That interplay between Irwin, a farm girl from Alberta, Canada, and New Yorker Poupko provides the necessary friction to keep The Train You’re On from slipping into happy cliché. Poupko earned a bachelor’s degree in jazz guitar performance from the Chicago Musical College at Roosevelt University, and then began a career as a teacher and performer (notably, with the locally acclaimed Dearborn) around the Windy City. Along the way, he met Irwin when they worked on one of Chicago’s longest running theater productions. Together, they found a shared sensibility, and this passion for blending rock, pop, folk and blues.

Of course, most journeys are marked by potholes, blind alleys and speed traps, right? You’ll find Twinray expertly navigating the obstacles.

Irwin begins “Who Do You Think You Are” by taking a full-of-it egotist to task, setting the stage for a delicious little putdown song. But, the more she thinks about this guy, the more alluring he becomes. “You confuse me but I want to stay,” Irwin sings, amidst a grinding riff by Poupko. “I can’t think of what I want to say. I think I like you, anyway. You’re kind of growing on me in a way.” A world spinning ever faster nearly throws Irwin on “Crazy In My Mind,” before she centers herself again as Poupko tears through an appropriately jagged solo turn.

“Twisted,” with a skipping country lope belying its title, finds Twinray following along just a few steps behind a socialite who can never quite settle down. That doesn’t stop a forlorn love interest from pining away, even if he goes in knowing how fruitless that can be. “Yellow sundress, olive skin,” Irwin sings, “you pray she’ll let you in.” Poupko adds a polyrhythmic intricacy to “Sleeping Prophet,” as Irwin tries to reassure someone less certain of things. “I just want to help heal all the pain, and answer any doubt,” she sings.

The album slows almost to an idle for “You Can’t Be Found,” a tender, string-laden song about the difficulties in connecting with someone. Then thoughts come tumbling out of Irwin in a torrent. “How can I find you, be near you, and reach you?” she asks, as the tune begins a dizzying crescendo. It’s a question even this determinedly romantic duo can’t completely answer.

The Train You’re On ends with the similarly themed “Waiting,” a song with gorgeous atmospherics. Irwin’s voice, fragile but ever-expectant, is joined by a swinging brass counterpoint, Poupko’s psychedelic solo, and a conversational rhythm. That perfectly fits the rousing, Beatle-esque chorus. “Find the lesson and learn it well,” Irwin sings, closing the record on a soaring high. “You can graduate from your own hell.”

Even when the path narrows, and it always does, Twinray is this consistent voice of optimism, ever watchful for beauty in the passing scenery.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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