For more than two decades Tom Waits' "Downtown Train" has been one of the legendary lost items in Bob Seger's catalog -- primarily because it seemed such a fine fit for him, as evidenced by the version he released on Monday (Feb. 28).
The Detroit Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has always had an affinity for Waits' songs anyway (check out previously released covers of the idiosyncratic bard's "New Coat of Paint" and "16 Shells From a Thirty-Ought Six"), and he first recorded "Downtown Train" in 1989, only to have it derailed when Rod Stewart hit with his own treatment of the song. That it's been recorded by many others -- including Mary Chapin Carpenter, Patti Smyth and Everything But The Girl -- only made it more challenging for Seger to revisit it.
But his "Downtown Train," the first release from the forthcoming follow-up to 2006's "Face the Promise" and currently streaming at his official web site (www.bobseger.com) more than holds its own. The version, produced by Seger and recorded in Los Angeles, recaptures the song's inherent melodic drama with a rhythmic touch that's rootsy but also has a subtle samba flavor. The pensive verse leads to a swelling chorus, dressed up with rich female backing vocals and a three-note guitar lick that leads into a solo in the song's midsection.
In other words, it still sounds like the "Downtown Train" the world knows and loves -- primarily from Stewart's version -- but has a richness and oomph that makes it Seger's own.
And though it's likely to still be awhile before we hear the rest of Seger's new album, "Downtown Train" certainly stokes our expectations.