Great American Trainwreck releases 3rd record: Red Deer

Article Contributed by Gabriel David Barkin | Published on Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Great American Trainwreck recently released Red Deer, the third record for the Seattle quintet (Stephanie Ward, lead vocals, acoustic guitar, and viola; Nick Nordus, lead electric and acoustic guitar; Dan Rogers, bass; Andy Basinger, keys; Dave Bush, drums). With a blend of bluegrassy twang and Americana rock and country influences, Red Deer is a confident evolution replete with radio-friendly lyrics and credible instrumentation.

Great American Trainwreck live at Nectar Lounge | Seattle, WA | Photo by Danny Ngan

The band describes this self-produced outing as “an opportunity to take more risks and explore new ideas that pushed the band and the album into uncharted waters.” Nick Nordus is a new addition to the lineup, and his lead guitar is prominent in the musical interludes between Stephanie Ward’s country-tonk vocals. But make no mistake; like their earlier releases, Ward’s soprano lead vocals provide the hook that gives Great American Trainwreck its distinctive sound.

For the record, this band has no apparent personnel connection to Great American Taxi (Vince Herman’s band during Leftover Salmon’s early-aughts hiatus). But if you like Taxi, you might like Trainwreck. Imagine Leftover Salmon with Lone Justice’s Maria McKee belting out Roadhouse Americana instead of Vince and Drew on the lead vocals. True to the genre, the songs hew toward subjects that include road trips, train rides, and landscapes. Through it all, there is a thread of nostalgia for days and relationships gone by. There’s also a healthy dose of living for the now and remaining hopeful for the future. Even the song titles spell it out. “Still Around.” “On the Run.” “Room to Roam.” “Pacific Moon.” “Loaded” captures the spirit of Red Deer’s lyrical essence:

Down a tunnel, southward bound
Lower level and underground
Skip the local, head to express
Ticket punched for regrets

Elsewhere, Ward tells us that it’s “time to make a U-turn and swing back around” (“Still Around”). She says she “heard about a place where you can climb above the clouds under the trees.” In “Light Years,” the first track on Red Deer, she describes being “miles from the moon running full speed ahead.” There is a loose narrative of longing for both past and future that strings these tunes together, and Ward sells it with a sweet alto-soprano.

The title track is the most interesting cut on Red Deer. It’s really two songs in one, beginning with a bluegrassy New Riders-ish ramble that includes the album’s best line: “Tables are turning, and velvet is burning to bone.” The first 3½ minutes could stand on its own as a radio track for any honkytonk or bluegrass station. But then, Great American Trainwreck detours into uncharted waters with a song-within-a-song jam. During this interlude, Nordus takes the lead for a few minutes of an Arabesque-psychedelic jam that might remind some older hippies of Jefferson Airplane’s deep cut “Spare Chaynge.”

Red Deer | Great American Trainwreck's 3rd album | Photo by Kurt Clark

Ward gets to take a breather during the interlude, until the pace quickens and she finds herself once again in bluegrass territory, “Rolling into madness like a red deer,” to bring the song to a rambunctious close. “Golden Gardens” closes Red Deer with wistful reflections on a lost relationship. Nordus’s slide guitar underscores the evolving, often imperceptible transitions inherent in life and love while Ward muses that it’s “hard to recognize the people we’ve become.” She longs for bygone, perfect moments in the chorus:

Playing our music
Without a sound
Millions of people, but
No one else around

Indeed, perhaps it’s often hard to recognize the people we’ve become. But it’s easy to recognize who Great American Trainwreck is by the time the song fades to black to close the album. They are “playing their music” – and perhaps with the release of Red Deer, they’ll build new relationships with legions of Americana fans.

Great American Trainwreck | Red Deer | Photo by Kurt Clark