Old School Freight Train Speak Out: Pickin' On Ben Harper

Old School Freight Train (OSFT) is a five-piece string band that combines bluegrass, jazz, Celtic, afro-Cuban, and more. They released a self-titled album in 2003 and have an album of original material on deck for spring release, but their latest is a tribute to Ben Harper. Speak Out is part of the CMH Pickin’ On series, a collection of albums that run the tunes of popular artists over a bluegrass washboard in a shameless endeavour to entice new fans to the genre. OSFT has also recorded similar tributes to Coldplay, Wilco, and Air. On Speak Out, the boys pluck, strum, and draw the bow through a dozen of Harper’s songs, including "The Woman In You,” "Excuse Me Mr.,” and "Burn One Down,” but they don’t sound like typical cover songs. For the most part OSFT has re-shaped Harper’s sound, though they attempt to mimic his beat-boxin’ on "Steal My Kisses.” Harper’s rootsier fans will enjoy the makeover and bluegrass enthusiasts will revel in the appropriation of the pop icon; however, Speak Out is a blatant appeal to the same pop-folk market that caters to the fans of Ben Harper and Jack Johnson. Although the band has toyed with Harper’s sound, they’re still sponging off of his success. As a result, the album may fail to thrill those who’d rather hear something more personal or original from a band with as much talent as OSFT. (CMH)