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"There's a little bit of truth in those songs," he says. "We're not going to [not] write about them because they've been done before." Plus, he notes, the practices of drinking to exaltation, dealing with heartbreak, and drag racing one's youth away "happen again and again through generations; they're timeless for a lot of people. You can listen to a song from 1955 and relate to it today. Yeah, it's been done before, but it fits what we're doing."
There's one cut on Southbound that has definitely not been done before, and it may be the recording's finest moment: The Railbenders transform Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" from a metal man's anthem into a heartfelt ode that plays cleverly on the band's moniker. Somehow, the reworked cover manages to be hilarious and poignant at the same time. When Dalton muses, "Maybe it's not too late/To learn how to love and forget how to hate," Ozzy's original lyrics seem like the words of some new-age optimist instead of a bat-biting shrieker. In the hands of the Railbenders, the song's chorus sounds as if it were written exclusively for cowboys. And when its signature guitar riff reappears here in sweet Texas tones, it's a beautiful, head-spinning Black-Sabbath-meets-Bakersfield moment.
Dalton got the idea to use the song when he heard it on his car radio after a band rehearsal. Struck by its C&W potential, he got home, reworked the chords into trad form and later laid it on his mates. The band debuted the tune while opening a show for the Derailers, and the response it received was encouraging. "The crowd started cheering, [and] when we got to the chorus, they were screaming," Dalton recalls. "We knew that was one that would work."
Southboundwas originally released through MP3.com because the band didn't have the funds to reproduce it in bulk. (MP3 allows users to sell copies on a per-order basis, splitting profits with its artists.) Via that Internet music site (and their own, railbenders.com), the group sold about a hundred copies to listeners around the United States and in such seemingly twang-free locales as Turkey and Japan. This month the Railbenders are celebrating the official release of the CD on the Big Bender label, a new imprint from Loveland's Hapi Skratch outfit.
Dalton and his mates join a slowly growing roster of countrified bands springing up in the Denver area, a list that includes Halden Wofford & the Hi Beams and the up-and-coming Honkytonk Hangovers. The emergence of these bands, and a small but loyal audience eager to support them, is encouraging news to the 'Benders. "There's definitely a fan base for it here," Dalton notes. Could it be that there's a honky-tonk renaissance under way in town? Is wearing a ten-gallon hat about to replace the rave and the lindy hop as the thing to do in Denver when you're not dead?
"I sure hope so," Dalton says. "We need more music for the little guy."