Album Review – The Bongos “Phantom Train”

On October 1, 2013, something unique is about to happen. After over 20 years of going their separate ways, The Bongos have reunited once again as major artists touring throughout the U.S. However, back in 87 when the band decided to go their separate ways, there was some unfinished business that needed tending to.

With a series of tracks recorded back in the mid 80s, The Bongos have decided to resurrect their last album comprised of selected tracks called, Phantom Train. Clearly the New Jersey band of the New Wave, or should I say “No Wave” era, definitely made their mark on the music scene in the 1980s.  Headed up by front man Richard Barone, The Bongos are also made up of Rob Norris, Frank Giannini, and James Mastro as they made their mark with a “British flavored” sound producing such albums  as Drums Along The Hudson, and Numbers With Wings.

  The Bongos are in full swing on tour doing what they love most, performing.  When asked about releasing an album that was over twenty years in the making, Richard Barone feels there is nothing unusual about releasing an album that was produced years ago. For him, it was a project that was completed, then frozen in time.  As Richard said, “Recordings are for future reference, regardless of the time period.” “It’s an album that’s a coming of age for everyone.”

As I listen to Phantom Train, this writer has to agree.  It certainly is well worth the wait with its collection of 14 tracks that sound more like music recorded in the last six months than over twenty years ago.  However, I especially love the Band’s cover of Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman.”  It does bring a little nostalgia to the album.

With regard to the remaining thirteen, there is no doubt Richard Barone has incredible depth in his words and music with many pieces playing in our heads. However, when listening to the lyrics of Phantom Train, the issue might not be what Richard is thinking, but what Richard is saying.  In “My Wildest Dreams”, two versions, with somewhat of a 60’s sound,  he talks about “night of decadence” and “days of recompense now, taking us through a “year of turbulence.” It is like he is taking us back to our weak insecure past, only later in life trying to compensate  for the harm and violations of others. The demo version is much better adding to the rawness of the album.

Richard seems to speak again to us regarding our over zealous human behavior.   I love the fast paced line in “Diamond Guitar”,

Greed is the all in all; then time stops you in your tracks. The Fortune in men’s eyes, is the music that can’t last.

Listening to those lyrics, I can’t help but think of a guy named Johnny, saying when you go, “you take nothing with you but your soul.”  Even in “River to River.”  he continues to deal with our defectiveness. Here, he seems to be conveying a message that many of us have experienced.  It is better to be with someone who treats you like crap rather than to be alone. That adds a whole new meaning to “Dark Shadows.”

But it is in “Phantom Train”, my favorite, that Richard and The Bongos really gives us a lot in word and music.  The guitars really add with the train sound. The song seems to be telling us how “out of control” things are.  The train is not taking me away, it brings me closer.  ”All alone, I just can’t make you go”.   Many of us just want to run, but we can’t hide, or as Richard states, “sometimes I wanna fade away.”

It’s also in Saturn Eyes, Richard keeps playing the theme of insecure weaknesses  in “Saturn Eyes”. The song appears to say if you really were honest with yourself, you would see right through me.  Now my cover is blown. For many of us that is what we want.

Even in the short tune, “Roman Circus”, Richard deals with our honesty, and how we feel, but too afraid to express it.  ” I didn’t mean to hurt you, but something needed to hurt you.”  Basically, I am sorry I said it, but I am glad I did.

Finally, the well produced piece, “Town of One.”  This piece is another one of my favorites.  I love the sax intro that reminded me of some good “News.”  You will have to figure that one out for yourself.

Being one of the chosen few that was able to have a sneak preview to Phantom Train has been a very special privilege .  It was my goal to try to comment on each track, but for editing purposes it just couldn’t happen.  However, looking back on all fourteen tracks, this writer hears some incredible sounds and creativity among all the members of The Bongos.  In fact, producing a album like this, many times  producers, writers, and performers get letters in the mail saying something like

“Dear Sir or Ma’am, congratulations, this album is being nominated.”

Stranger things have happen.

This is The Bongos, their album is Phantom Train, and on Oct. 1, 2013, boarding tickets will be sold.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *