Gabriel Kahane Rides The Rails And Captures The People Of Trump-Era America In Song

Gabriel Kahane's latest work, 8980: Book of Travelers, was inspired by his encounters on a cross-continental train ride.

Back in November 2016, Brooklyn-based composer Gabriel Kahane left his cell phone and the daily news cycle behind as he boarded a train. The result: an album, Book of Travelers.

Now if your goal is to cross the United States in a hurry, Amtrak isn't the ideal option — it takes about four days by rail. But if you're looking to meet strangers from all walks of life, it's a perfect choice. Which after the 2016 presidential election, is exactly what Kahane aimed to do.

He met a wide range of people, including "religious luddites from Ohio and then seasteading software engineers with crazy libertarian ideas."

He likened the trip to anthropological speed dating.

"As a solo passenger, I was always the third or fourth wheel, sometimes to a couple, sometimes to three single people," Kahane said. "It was extraordinary how forthcoming people were."

After 13 days, 31 states and dozens of dining-car meals later, Kahane returned to New York with a full diary and the inspiration to write a song cycle of character sketches and personal reflections. His new album, Book of Travelers, is a musical record of what he learned about America in an Amtrak dining car.

On the 11 songs, recorded in Los Angeles' Zeitgeist Studios, Kahane accompanies his plainspoken voice with gentle piano.

The lyrics are intimate and personal — but have a national, even global, message of acceptance.

"We do have more in common than we're lead to believe, and that ideological difference is something that's leveraged by people in power to consolidate power and to amass more wealth," Kahane said. "If we were able to look at system more than symptom — the systems that are in place that lead to people being vulnerable to racial animus — and we're able to look at the folks on high who are leveraging that difference to prevent solidarity, we might be in a slightly better place."

Listen to the full album on Spotify here:


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