There’s something peaceful about driving on the highway at 1:30 in the morning. I’m all alone in a vessel that could kill me without feeling any remorse. White lines fly by me, flickering like static from late night television. I don’t even look at the speedometer. I’m assuming I’m going somewhere around the speed limit based on the sounds coming from the engine of my 1999 ford Taurus. We’ve reached the point of symbiosis where I feel what the car feels, but probably not vice versa. Let’s face it; it’s a hunk of metal, cold and unfeeling. It doesn’t care what I’m feeling, it just wants gasoline. But the pavement below me is causing it to hum in the background. I’m lost. Not geographically. I know exactly where I am. I just passed exit 11 in Merrimack. But my mind is somewhere else. As the streetlight glares on my windshield, acting like hooks pulling my car along, I think about how I don’t want this trip home to end. I want these next twenty minutes to become hours, and days. I’m at peace in the driver’s seat. I choose my music wisely for trips such as this. It makes all the difference in the world to me. On this night, it’s Narrow Gauge Quad Trains by Wesley Hartley and the Traveling Trees. I turn the volume up. Tonight, we head out west.
The first sound that exits my speakers is from “Ol’ Texas”. The galloping guitar and drums are Folsom Prison-esque, but the pace is quickened, and Hartley’s vocals are gritty and world-weary. His lyrics are turning my car into a four-wheeled, traveling saloon. “I sell my horse, and I’ll sell my range. And I’ll hit the trail upon a northbound lane.” My driver’s seat is a barstool and the grip on my steering wheel is becoming a tight grip on a shot of bourbon. Thanks barkeep. I down my shot as the album moves on to “Jet Fighters” (an early Dead End Armory tune, Hartley’s former band). It slows down the pace as my steed is now moving along at a slow trot across the open plains. I ride through the cacti, six-shooter lazily slung from my hip. Two tracks in and I can see that Wesley Hartley and the Traveling Trees are doing a marvelous job at creating lo-fi, raw alt-country. It fits in perfectly between bands like Songs: Ohia and The Old 97’s.
Throughout the album there is a satisfying amount of songs with an amalgam of tempos and structures. At times, I find myself bobbing my head and wanting to stomp my foot, but I realize constant acceleration and deceleration are probably not the best for my automobile. I throw caution to the wind during “Shot n Shots”. My car is now fluctuating in speed, wreaking havoc on the engine. I realize my trusty steed is crying out in pain (and that I’ll probably get pulled over soon) and decide to take it easy on the old boy. There are other times on the album that I find myself wanting to drown my sorrows in a pint at my local pub. The song “Label Peels” has this cowed feeling to it, but it also happens to be my favorite track on the album. “I went and wasted another month/And held it together with scotch tape/And I have been dreaming a lot these days/Oh, about nothing you would understand”. I feel as if Hartley is in the passenger’s seat as I relay the story of my life, scrawling down these lyrics as he draws inspiration from my tales. But unless he is a pack of gum, I am still alone on this voyage.
Wesley channels early country greats like Tex Williams and Merle Haggard, but mixes his vocals with a flask of whiskey, giving them a twangy, Texas slur that seems to roll right off his tongue. “Acreless” is an incredible, western waltz. The leaden tempo and subjugated lyrics conjure up images of a cowboy who’s lost a step, slowly riding off into the Texan sunset. But there’s still hope yet. “You won't ever be swift, But you'll be alright” sings Hartley along with beautiful backing vocals of Leslie Deane. I’m just five songs in, but already this album is making my trip seem like hours, and that’s a wonderful thing. The mile markers on the side of the road get farther and farther apart. The exits seem like they are hours away, if they even exist at all anymore. I guide my car along the road, slowly veering left as the curvature of the road dictates. The barkeep sends another shot my way. “It’s on the house”. I could get used to this saloon.
The album comes to a close with “Acreless Less”, a complimentary tune to “Acreless”, as my mare disappears from beneath me, revealing tan cloth and gum wrappers. My car and I have become a part of one another. I spend so much time in it that It feels unnatural to relax almost anywhere but the driver’s seat. I’m alert when I’m navigating across these New England states. My senses are sharpened, my craft honed. At this point, my life goal is to find where I’m happy. It’s not back home in my dank apartment. It’s not in this town. It’s somewhere else. But maybe I’m happiest when I’m searching for what I think would make me happy. Maybe traveling around chasing ghosts is what I’m meant to do. I’m Captain Ahab. I must find my white whale. Except, this whale is an idea that could be with me the whole time. Perhaps Wesley Hartley said it best; “Asking the Jaybird the age of the weather, are you sure it’s where you belong? And if it’s all a cage, then where does it lock from?” I flick off my blinker, pass my exit and keep on driving. I’m not going home tonight. I start the album over and crank up the volume. I’m back in the saddle again.