Tracks and tunes

Photo by Steve Daly.

Photo by Steve Daly.

Thanks to my Dad, I’ve always had an interest in trains. When I was a kid, my father would take me down to the rail yard in Lowell and we’d walk along the spurs, checking out freight cars from far-flung places: Railbox, Wisconsin Central, Ciment Quebec, Baltimore and Ohio, Canadian National, Erie Lackawanna.

Occasionally, the Lowell-Boston MBTA commuter train would roar through on the nearby mainline tracks, the engineer hanging on the horn to both make sure we were out of its path and let us know we were on private property. My dad and I would simply wave at the engineer, realizing that a bit of trespassing was more than offset by our quality time together.

I’d often come home with an armful of dislodged railroad spikes, my hands and arms black with grease and grime. After a few trips I had more than enough spikes to form the border of a small garden in our yard. Nothing ever grew there, but the painted spikes looked awesome.

As the years passed and I grew older, our trips to the rail yard grew more infrequent. My dad is gone now, but I often find myself taking photos of trains and tracks, railroad trestles and switches. I guess it’s an opportunity to further strengthen that bond we shared.

Last fall I took the above photo on an excursion along the tracks on the south side of the Merrimack River in Chelmsford, Massachusetts. I was struck by the bareness of the trees and how the leaves had merely moved on to another area of the landscape, collecting in the pockets along and between the tracks. I remember being surprised that they hadn’t been whisked away given that the line, which stretches from Boston to Montreal, is well-traveled. It was one of hundreds of photos I’ve posted on my Instagram and Flikr pages.

A friend of mine, Rick Murnane, an accomplished and well-regarded musician who lives in western Massachusetts, noticed the photo one day. He was considering cover art for his next album, titled “Building the Railroad,” which he anticipates will be available on iTunes in January 2015, with the physical CD expected in the spring.

“I love the way the tracks run parallel and just curve off and fade away,” he said recently.

He asked if I would mind if he used it.  I was floored and flattered, and now I can’t wait to see it. It’s most likely the only way I’d ever get my name in liner notes.

Check out Rick’s stuff, including this title cut from his 2012 release, Wednesday Child. He’s a great singer/songwriter and musician. And if you pick up his next CD, you just might recognize the photo.


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