“Ghost Train” from Tennessee Outlaw Country and Matt Westin

It’s clear from the roar of the guitars in the new single “Ghost Train” from Tennessee Outlaw Country and Matt Westin that this pack of cowboys isn’t scared of a little rock n’ roll influence – especially when it allows for them to make a melody even mightier. Rather than rejecting the southern rock trend that has been getting a lot of steam in the underground lately, Westin and company are embracing it and cultivating a unique crossover sound that has as much mainstream appeal as it does indie street cred, which is a combination a lot of critics would have balked at just a year ago. The chemistry between these players is top-notch, and what results is one of the tightest country-rock anthems I’ve heard in a long time. 

This mix is layered more like a rock track than it is anything the puritans in Nashville have produced in the past ten years, but it’s not marginalizing harmonies in the name of brute physicality. On the contrary, I think this is one of the more melodically complete songs of its kind to come across as accessible to one demographic of fans as it does the other, largely because of the meticulousness of the production style. Westin’s work as a solo singer thus far has been marked by an attention to detail that I could only wish to hear more of in the mainstream country scene at the moment, and in this collaboration with Tennessee Outlaw Country, he’s delivering a consistent performance once again. 

The vocal harmonies in this track are gold and, to me, they’re the bread and butter of the narrative here. This isn’t to say that the lyrical substance of “Ghost Train” is lacking depth, but instead to acknowledge just how melodic a sword Matt Westin is wielding from behind the microphone. When he connects with the guitar parts, it’s easy to see where he could be just as profound in front of a complete orchestra as he is a blue-collar rock n’ roll-influenced outfit, which isn’t something I can say for the vast majority of his peers in or outside of the American underground today. This kind of talent can’t be taught, but it can definitely be refined – which he’s proven throughout his last four singles. 

From where I sit, “Ghost Train” is an old school country-rocker that isn’t overly straightforward nor indebted to the retro aesthetic so much as to become indistinguishable from its forerunners, and what it tells us about the potential Matt Westin still has as a performer is enormous. With Tennessee Outlaw Country, he executes with even greater precision than he has on his own, yielding a fire between these players that is something you can’t just wish into existence. It’s got to be natural when you’re making this kind of country music, and there isn’t anything about “Ghost Train” that feels inorganic. If anything, this is just the breath of fresh air most country fans needed this season. 

Michael Rand

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