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Bongos' 'Phantom Train' finally arrives

The "lost" Bongos album, finally reissued
The "lost" Bongos album, finally reissuedJem

In the fall of 1985, Hoboken, NJ indie pop band the Bongos headed into the studio to make a proposed album for Island Records. But the deal fell through, and by the time work on the album was completed the following year, the band had started falling apart (they’d finally split in 1987). And so their work remained unreleased, until Richard Barone, the band’s guitar/vocalist and chief songwriter, dug out the tapes for release on the newly revived Jem Records label.

It’s a terrific album that might well have changed the course of the band’s career had it been issued at the time. The record bursts with the jangly guitars, booming drums, cool keyboard lines, and sweet Barone vocals that are the band’s trademark sound.

Yet along with the infectious beat, there’s an undercurrent of melancholy running throughout, making The Bongos brand of pop a bittersweet one. This is most evident on a song like the album’s title track, when Barone reaches for the upper register with heartfelt passion. You get to hear The Bongos’ take on two songs Barone later added to his solo shows, “I Belong to Me” and the haunting “Tangled in Your Web.” The band’s cover of Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman” is such a good fit you’d swear it was a Bongos original. And there’s also a demo version of the album’s opening track, “My Wildest Dreams.”

“Phantom Train” is one lost album that well deserved being rescued from purgatory, giving Bongos’ fans a last fond look at this underrated band.