(Editor’s note: I moved from an apartment into a house starting January 1st, 2020, and I had to toss all my CDs into a big garbage bag during the move. The idea for this feature is I write a review about each CD as I unpack that bag, one CD at a time, and rank them.)
The tenth CD out of the bag
1. What Are They Doing In Heaven Today?; 2. Between The Switches; 3. Lost At Sea; 4. I Never Will Marry; 5. Wreck of the 97; 6. Life Is Like A Mountain Railroad; 7. Next Time Take the Train; 8. Riding The Rods; 9. Grainer; 10. You Will Often Meet Obstruction; 11. In The Shadow of Clinch Mountain; 12. Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down I; 13. Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down II; 14. As You Roll Across The Trestle; 15. Rainbow’s End; 16. Other, Younger Days; 17. I Believe, I Believe.
If someone asked me what the most obscure CD in my collection is, I’d probably say Murry Hammond’s 2008 release I Don’t Know Where I’m Going But I’m on My Way. Hammond is more well known as a vocalist and guitarist for the rockin’ alt-country Texas band, Old 97’s. On his debut solo album, Hammond eschews the electric energy of Old 97’s and instead delivers an extended acoustic folk sermon using train and railway imagery to chronicle an introspective spiritual journey through a stark landscape. It’s a quiet album for a quiet room. The haunting odes to lost loved ones and meditations on the afterlife evoke Jimmie Rodgers and Johnny Cash in his later years. It’s like old-timey country gospel from a bygone era sung by a lost soul sincerely seeking purpose and meaning along the railroad of life. Highlights include the gorgeous opener “What Are They Doing in Heaven Today?” where Hammond wonders about dead friends before launching into one of the most mournful yodels you’ll likely hear. “Lost at Sea” is a rambling rumination on restlessness and regret. “Next Time Take the Train” is another lyrical beauty (“Trains roll in the hearts of men”) with more high lonesome yodeling. With tracks like “Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down” and spoken-word interludes between songs, I Don’t Know Where I’m Going But I’m on My Way is not for everyone. But if the sound of a train rolling in the distant night makes you ponder the meaning of life, then rejoice, because Murry Hammond has made an album for you.
My favorite song
My favorite song is the finale, “I Believe, I Believe.” In it, Hammond describes Heaven as a sanctuary for children and a place for afterlife family reunions. Lyrics like “There’s an easy footpath through the far green mountains where my father has gone on before” hit home for anyone who’s lost a loved one. The longer I live the more I love this song. My mom is a recent cancer survivor, and my dad died almost five years ago, so “I Believe, I Believe” plucks my heartstrings a little harder every year. The words are pure poetry, but to be honest, if all Hammond did was yodel for four minutes the way he does in this song, it would still be my favorite. With that melancholy sound, Hammond somehow conveys the labor of life, the searching of the soul, and the hopefulness of Heaven all at the same time.
My favorite lines of my favorite song
“Where the veil’s rolling thin on the big blue curtain, my mother will stand at the door to embrace and enfold as in days uncertain, the days of my childhood before.”