Paddy McHugh: City Bound Trains

- City Bound Trains is the third record from Brisbane-based folk-country storyteller Paddy McHugh. But after two self-released efforts, this one is his first on ABC music. For those already acquainted, City Bound Trains contains some familiar elements - country rock with some folky touches; a set of stories from the cultural fringes; a bit of history and a bit of Australiana glimpsed through the car windows on a vast open highway.

What's new is a more polished production and careful, full band arrangement; which gives the stories a more epic, widescreen feeling. Particularly early on in the album as trains and highways set the scene for stories of new beginnings, the artist most brought to mind is Bruce Springsteen. Another obvious comparison given the storytelling style and usage of Australian places and landscapes as a grammatical device is Paul Kelly; but in truth Paddy's style as a storyteller is mining an old tradition of which folk and country music is only a recent incarnation.

The ten songs are each a narrative, almost always in first person - a technique which takes a risk by shedding the buffer of ironic detachment of the documentarian. Paddy McHugh wants you as a listener to feel the emotions of and empathise with the characters he depicts. The themes are big ones too - not for the first time in Paddy's discography death is there and so is love, desperation, poverty, sexuality, race, the quest for redemption. If that sounds like a heavy mix you'll be relieved to know there is also a good dose of humour, catchy melodies and the kind of optimism that (fitting with the album title) makes every song a journey of characters trying to find their way.

Highlights include the black comedy of Down To Sydney, the panoramic folk rock of Great Dividing Range and the joyous convict rebel song Sean McDonough. But this album's lasting legacy probably won't be catchy singles. It's a compendium of short stories designed to suck you in to a world of characters struggling with the universals of life. And like any good tale, these stories purely by the scenes they depict are compelling, arresting, and ultimately inspiring.

- Andy Paine.

Album Details

Album Title: City Bound Trains
Artist: Paddy McHugh
Record Label: (ABC / Universal)