Some of my favorite moments on Modest Mouse’s records are the forays into folky territory and/or the idiosyncratic use of orchestration. It’s not that I don’t love their bashy guitar rave-ups, but there’s something wonderfully strange and infectious about Issac Brock and co.’s incorporation/interpretation of the aforementioned idioms. For these reasons, it makes sense that Brock would be a fan of the constantly underrated Lee Hazlewood due to the latter’s strange take on folk/country music that frequently incorporated lush orchestration while messing traditional song forms. With his cover of Hazlewood’s “The Railroad,” Brock seems to be drawing a direct line between his use of folk music and Hazlewood’s. For both artists, folk/country may be a starting place, but the end product often winds up resembling something else entirely.
Brock’s interpretation of “The Railroad” features a circus-like Hazlewood-esque arrangement, but instead of adopting a faux croon, Brock plays up the quirks of his own voice and alternately growls/yelps in a near-Tom Waits-ian fashion. In the end, Brock makes “The Railroad” very much his own, and the booze-soaked lyrics could almost pass for something off of Lonesome Crowded West. Hazlewood’s style suits Brock well, and it’s interesting to hear him acknowledge and warp his songwriting influences while working with very new arrangements.
You can stream “The Railroad” via YouTube below. The track will be on SideOneDummy’s Hazlewood tribute record Thriftstore Masterpiece: Trouble Is a Lonesome Town, out July 9.