Daniel Lanois’s name comes first on the bill, and the Canadian guitarist and producer’s fuzzed-out Les Paul will be stoking the boilers when Hallelujah Train plays the Pemberton Music Festival this week. Gifted as he is, however, the man behind Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind, Neil Young’s Le Noise, and most of U2’s career won’t be at the wheel of this particular gospel express.
“Dad drives the train,” says drummer Brady Blade Jr., on the line from Shreveport, Louisiana, and sounding understandably proud of his father, Pastor Brady Blade. “When he’s on-stage, it’s his ball game. My brother and I are just the logistical guys. We help put the band together—you know, organize travel and all that kind of stuff. But once we get there it’s Dad’s ship, and he takes it where he wants to go.”
The Blade brothers aren’t exactly bit players. Brian Blade regularly gigs with Lanois’s psychedelic-soul project Black Dub, but he’s just as comfortable behind the kit with jazz legend Wayne Shorter. His older sibling keeps a lower profile, preferring the studio to the stage, but numbers Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, and Dave Matthews among his friends and bandmates. Given the environment they grew up in, it’s no wonder they’re both musicians—and remarkable ones at that.
“My mom played piano, and my dad is a minister,” Brady Jr. explains. “He was also a DJ on a radio station and a TV presenter. I mean, the guy was all over the place, all the time. And because of his love of music, and my brother and I growing up in the church, obviously we were just following on his heels. It was like he was Mother Goose and we were the little geese following him around, right? He had a show when we were in high school called The Hallelujah Train that he started and ran.…and just recently Brian was saying, you know, ‘Before Dad gets, like, 95 years old we should probably do something to bring the Train back.’ ”
Enlisting Lanois, steel guitarist Greg Leisz, and Nashville producer Buddy Miller, the brothers set up a showcase at Duke University that went so well the born-again Hallelujah Train has become a kind of floating social club for some of North America’s best roots musicians. Leisz and Miller won’t be at Pemberton, but with Toronto’s Malcolm Burn and Austin’s Will Sexton joining Lanois in the guitar section, no one will be complaining.
“This unit, it’s kind of a mixed bag,” Brady Jr. explains. “Dad’s going to take it to church any way it goes, but we do put a bit of a rock thing into it; we’ve got a bit of a swamp-boogie thing too. So it’s kind of a big mixture of things, even though we’re doing two or three spiritual songs, like ‘Amazing Grace’.
“We’re also doing a lot of our own original material,” he continues. “My father wrote half of the set, and we’re going to slip in a couple of surprises for Canada that we learned last week, so I’m pretty excited about that.”
More than that he won’t say, but Brady Jr. does have a few words for those wondering how a gospel jam band fronted by a 75-year-old Baptist preacher will fare against the relatively youthful likes of Deadmau5 and Nine Inch Nails.
“Dad’s got energy like he’s 12,” he notes, laughing. “It’s unbelievable; the guy never stops. I love him to death, and making music with him just is a wonderful thing.”
Hallelujah Train plays the Pemberton Music Festival on Sunday (July 20).