308 Ghost Train is an up-and-coming rock band, with a difference – by Catherine Books
While it would be fair to describe 308 Ghost Train as a reincarnation of the best-loved classic rock bands from the late 60s, 70s, and 80s, based on their sound and musical vibe, Anthony Caruso – the singer, frontrunner and head of the band – is an original and refreshing new force on the rock scene, yet still manages to bring the old-school rock voice back to life, and back into fashion. It’s clear to see why some have crowned him the messiah of the new rock world.
Whilst the name ‘308 Ghost Train’ is a pretty unconventional name for a band, it’s certainly fitting- they’re no ordinary band. While the classic rock sound tolls from each and every song the band produces, the songs’ messages are far from that of their rock-era counterparts, which glorified ‘Sex, Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll’. Anthony Caruso, and the sound of 308 Ghost Train, are like whisky and wine; they have improved with age. The wisdom and experience which accompanies the process of getting older, of losing your naïve young feathers, and gaining a strong, mature plumage, is intertwined into all of Caruso’s songs on their EP, ‘Born in the Wild’. The result is: a mature, sophisticated, expertly cultivated EP, in which every song has been immaculately crafted (to perfection, in my opinion).
While the wisdom of age can account for some of the perspective which defines the EP, there is another significant, underlying influence, which serves as Caruso’s inspiration for writing the songs. If you’re an exceptional analyst, you might be able to work it out from the band name.
The ‘Ghost’, referred to in, and sandwiched in the middle of, the band name is the Holy Ghost, and the number 308 refers to a passage in the bible. This passage (John 3:08) describes the Holy Spirit as a force alike the wind, flowing through the world to where it’s most needed. Likewise, the feeling you get from listening to this album, and from the band themselves, is that they want their message-oriented music to flow throughout the world, finding (and helping) the people who need it most.
After winning a POSI Song of the Year award, in the social justice category, Anthony Caruso was inspired to produce this EP. Already an innovator in the music industry, Caruso was intent on creating a whole new genre of rock, which focuses on ensuring that each song has a message which is worth writing a song about, in the hopes that it can help someone, somewhere. Despite this noble aim, when listening to the music you never feel like an agenda, or a message, is being forced on you; Caruso delivers his messages in a subtle, unobtrusive and highly enjoyable way.
Aside from the important messages that 308 Ghost Train propagates, they have an incredible sound. Anthony Caruso’s voice has been compared to that of Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp and John Fogerty, and his voice more than lives up to these big names (dare I say that he might have the edge). His voice is pure, husky, rock goodness.
New bands, in particular, often fall victim to the affliction of sounding like amateurs. At the beginning of any band’s career, it can be hard not to- a band usually doesn’t have access to quality recording equipment, or if they can’t use it to a high standard. Not so, with 308 Ghost Train. Already, this band sounds like they’ve been in the game for years, and the result is, frankly, impressive.
The first song on the EP, ’21 Guns and a Million Tears’ is a tribute to veterans all over: a song to let them know that they aren’t alone, first and foremost, since Anthony Caruso is a military vet himself. It’s heart-wrenching, and beautiful and, moulded by his own experiences in the military, these lyrics really pack a punch. Beginning with sounds reminiscent of military memorial music, the emotional lyrics that follow allow the listener to experience a glimpse of the harrowing reality of being a military veteran, whilst providing a sense of belonging and comfort for those who’ve been through the same as him. Consistent with the band’s overall goal, 308 Ghost Train wants this song to reach as many veterans as it can, to give them the comfort and encouragement they need to pursue their dreams, and keep fighting their way through life like Caruso did himself.
Despite having some pretty desolate lyrics, the next song on the EP, ‘Worn’, is ultimately uplifting and empowering, without being overpowering. At the heart of the song is the message: keep going, keep struggling, keep fighting, no matter how much you’ve been through in the past. Striking the right balance between mellow and bold, the song takes you on an emotional and musical journey. At the outset, you could go so far as to describe the song as melancholic- not for long, however.
Soon after the singer proclaims of his feet struggling ‘to steady on the ground’, he conveys his feelings of being helped– or, guided –through life ‘in the palm of someone’s hand’. Gradually, and subtly, the song becomes more upbeat, the texture of the instrumentals thickening, and soon (though it’s hard to pin down exactly how the band accomplishes this) you begin to feel as though you can do anything, no matter what you’ve been through prior.
More than any other song in the EP, Caruso’s voice is the focal point, with the instrumentals simply providing a foundation for his voice, and for the message. Having said this, his voice doesn’t overpower the song, or become a tyrant over the instrumentals, allowing the various, sweet-sounding guitar parts to be similarly appreciated. In summary, the balance between voice and instrumentals is struck perfectly, each complementing the other in perfect harmony, and allowing the message to shine through.
The third song on the EP– the title track, in fact –is ‘Born in the Wild’, a semi-autobiographical song drawing from frontrunner Anthony Caruso’s childhood, family and roots: a good, old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll life-story narrative. The overarching vibe that seems to ring out from the song is a sense of freedom; of being connected to the earth, of being connected to nature and to a more natural way of life. It’s also arguably the most personal track on the EP, which helps us listeners connect more, as humans, to the members of the band.
When band members reveal personal details relating to themselves in their songs, it helps us listeners to relate to them in a more personal way- plus it helps us to verify that the songs the band plays actually relates to them. In essence, they feel more like truths. Anthony Caruso reveals particulars about his parents’ identities, as well as details of how he was brought into, and brought up, in the world. Aside from the narrative, this song has all the funk-factor you could want from a boogie-woogie rock ‘n’ roll track, and is vaguely reminiscent of T-Rex, particularly in the guitar parts, and each time that arousing chorus rolls around, and the lyric ‘born in the wild’ tolls out of the speaker, it results in a seriously visceral listener experience (trust me- it’s great).
The musicians, aside from singer Anthony Caruso, responsible for the ‘Born in the Wild’ EP are: guitarist, Chip Martin; keyboardist, Dan Defigio; drummer, William Ellis and; bassist Andrew Warren. Each of these men are talented musicians in their own right, but not a (necessarily) permanent fixture of 308 Ghost Train. Anthony Caruso works with different bands to provide music for his audiences, and has even performed solo with recordings. In this way, he is the heart and soul of 308 Ghost Train, and the innovator and creator of its music.
Since Caruso is indisputably the heart of 308 Ghost Train, it seems only right that he should be referenced in the band name. Nicknamed ‘Train’ for his tenacious, relentless personality (particularly when pursuing his goals and dreams), he makes up the last part of the band name. This nickname is perfect for him because Anthony Caruso is just like a train: unstoppable. His determined personality translates to a perfectionism which has resulted in an EP of the highest possible quality (lucky for us!).
‘I’ll Unbreak Your Heart’, the penultimate track on the ‘Born in the Wild’ EP, is exactly the kind of rock love ballad I had hoped it would be. Predictably, the track tells of the speaker’s desire to fix the heart of someone they love (presumably by loving them, and giving them the love and care that they deserve). From the outset- even from those initial few notes- you get the feeling that you’re in for an emotional journey (and boy, are you). The longing, the love, the desire to heal; these overriding themes present themselves throughout the song and, as per usual, Caruso’s husky, golden voice soothes the ears of the listener. However, at 3:08 in (coincidentally), the high note he takes hold of is angelic, and reveals to the listener that Anthony Caruso is far from being a one-trick pony.
The last song on the ‘Born in the Wild’ EP is ‘This Is My Home’. Whilst the true message of this song is fairly well hidden within its enigmatic lyrics, it’s actually intended as a fight song for those battling cancer. Co-written with a young girl, who raises money each year with her lemonade stand, to help fund children’s cancer research (at St Jude’s Hospital), the song at its heart is a war cry against cancer and its invasion of the human body, aka our ‘home’. This cause is incredibly important to Caruso, and 308 Ghost Train hope that, with the gifts that they’ve been given, they can be of some help to those fighting cancer, and hope that someone can use this as their own fight song, making them feel stronger in their fight, and less alone.
True to 308 Ghost Train’s style, they use narrative to illustrate their message, and the sound is used as a foundation for that message. This is not a ‘put it on in the background’ type of song: you’re compelled to listen. Caruso is an expert craftsman of imagery- he describes the child at the lemonade stand in such a way that you have to picture it, which makes the song even more impactful when he later tells them to keep on fighting through the illness that has seized them. The imagery, and the narrative, makes the song impossible to ignore. Listening to this song, and other 308 Ghost Train’s songs, is like reading a book, or watching a movie, though more powerful emotionally.
Despite having an enormously different sound, and occupying a completely different genre, Anthony Caruso’s construction of musical narrative reminds me of the masters of lyrical narrative: ABBA. While they aren’t to everyone’s taste, no one can deny their talent, and their ability to tell stories through song- hell, they’ve made two movies almost entirely constructed from the narratives derived from their songs. In the future, I’d go so far as to say that this might also be in store for 308 Ghost Train, if they continue to produce original, top quality, storytelling songs, like those which they’ve included in this EP.
Throughout the EP, the sound 308 Ghost Train has, is of a high, professional quality: the kind of quality that you don’t notice if you only listen to music produced in top recording studios, with the best sound editors and producers. For those of us who are curious enough to give new, and up-and-coming, bands a chance, it’s difficult to find a new band that doesn’t give itself away as ‘amateur’ through some rookie mistake in the recording studio. Though we can paint singer Anthony Caruso as a free spirit, a rock icon, a messiah for people who miss the golden era of rock, it’s evident from his lyrical construction, musical vision and instincts in the recording studio, that Caruso is a perfectionist, if not a genius. It’s becoming evident that he is not just a military veteran, but a veteran of sound. He’s a natural storyteller, making his songs a joy to listen to, and utterly un-ignorable. More than this, they are songs for people who want to sing along; his clear, east-coast voice making a statement with each word he sings, which is great for us sing-a-long-ers because we’ll have no trouble picking up the lyrics (I’ve been singing them all week, personally).
308 Ghost Train, in my mind, have already succeeded in their goal. When their music is playing, it feels like your mind, body and soul are being healed, and you’re enveloped by the feeling that you can (and should) take life by the horns and make the most of it. At the bare minimum, their music puts you in a better mood.
As I say, they’ve already succeeded at making music which makes a difference- now it’s a matter of watching that success grow. If you want to get stuck straight into 308 Ghost Train’s music, ‘21 Million Guns and a Million Tears’ is out now on Spotify, and available for sale on iTunes.
‘Worn’ is available for pre-order on ITunes from the 4th June. The release date for the full EP ‘Born in the Wild’ is yet to be confirmed.