Schnitzel – Southbound Freight (2005)
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Schnitzel - Southbound Freight

Okay, so first of all, let’s state the obvious: Schnitzel needs to change its name. Outside of maybe making them a big draw on the Oktoberfest circuit, it’s hard to imagine how naming a band after a cut of fried meat could be the best way to go — especially when the band in question, periodic bursts of German notwithstanding, sounds more like PBR than schnitzel.

Yep, that’s right; if the cover and title weren’t dead giveaways, here it is in black and white: Southbound Freight is an Americana album. I recently wrote in an upcoming review of another album that Americana, as a genre, seems to have been founded on the belief that any jackass with a guitar and a crummy voice can make the next Nebraska. On the surface, Freight seems to fit the bill — the singer couldn’t hit a note if the rest of the band was holding it down in the parking lot, and the chords are straight out of Mel Bay’s first 25 pages — but goddamn if it doesn’t all work somehow.

(I’m not kidding about the singing. You’ve got to be a forgiving person when it comes to vocals, or Southbound loses all its charm fairly rapidly, and even if you’re willing to cut the guy some slack, you still might wonder from time to time if he’s purposely trying to sound this way. Just a small warning.)

What it all boils down to — duh — are the songs. This is musical territory that’s been done to death, exhumed, and beaten into the dust all over again — more than once — but there’s still mileage yet to be wrought, apparently, from sad tales of small dreams and smaller towns. The production has a perfectly lonesome vibe; you may find yourself wanting to crawl inside the mandolin, or wishing you had a farm the bank could come and take away. You may even feel like going bowling and drinking light beer.

The band says Southbound Freight sounds like Townes Van Zandt covering Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which conjures terrifying images of shaggy upper-middle-class hipsters reading No Depression at Starbucks, but is nonetheless pretty accurate. Give “Cakeeater” (download) and the ‘Mats-flavored “Upstate” (download) a listen. Meet you at the bowling alley — the first pitcher’s on me.