Nothing comes from nowhere. The mule, the miracle plough-puller, the humble and mighty tiller of the earth, is blessed and cursed with a dubious origin. Likewise, though their nativity was in London in the latter half of the last century, these Anglo-Irish honkeys know that their souls were forged further back and farther west. Fallen into hell’s ditch, baptised in brimstone, reborn in the devotion of African-American Gospel, the pain of penitentiary work songs, the jittery stomp of hillbilly rock. Creeping with shovels to the lonesome resting places of traditional folk, delving deep into the treasures of song that lie beneath broken soil, loading a wagon under cover of night, they have electrified and reanimated those borrowed remains with a newfound urgency, melancholy, rage and beauty.
As a lost soul in chains once observed, even the ugliest train looks pretty through the cold bars of a cell. Rattling its way to redemption, with evil on its mind, the one-eyed machine follows an impossible route on ghost rails through a landscape of folk and country: Jackson, Mississippi. Memphis, Tennessee. New Orleans, Louisiana. Big Rock, Arkansas. Old Funk, Georgia. A legendary south of country preachers, forgotten jailhouses, jaded dreams of salvation. But always the irresistible, insidious, inevitable pulse of the dangerous blues. Wheels pounding the track. The guitar pick, the drum, the clap, the holler, the cry, the need never satisfied. The runaway monster roars into a tunnel, a smoke-choked furnace of devil cries and sulphur, then back into the night, screaming off the rails, blazing down into a canyon, to a final, raucous reckoning of steel and flame.
Dark night, cold ground. Wreckage sizzles. Buzz of crickets like a legion of derelict amps plugged into hell’s socket, gathered to wail their lament. Sad moonlight on the cornfields. Then, after a long moment that lasts for seconds or for centuries, aching gears grind again. Scorched to its bones, trailing its metal guts, three dozen iron wheels clawing the canyon wall, the ancient beast resurrects. The Miraculous Mule Train drives on, railroad or no, ploughing the black earth of night to the dawn that does not come. But this is mere prophecy. The train is only now leaving the station. Get on it.