Hellbound Train - An Anthology

Steve Tibbetts

Hellbound Train is a double-album retrospective from Steve Tibbetts with music selected by the US guitarist from 40 years of recordings on ECM . Neatly divided into electric and acoustic chapters, the anthology juxtaposes pieces originally featured on the albums Northern Song, Safe Journey,  Exploded View, Big Map Idea, The Fall Of Us All, A Man About A Horse,  Natural Causes and Life Of. With its liquid melodies and textures and hypnotic patterns and pulsations subtly influenced by music of many cultures. it’s an ideal introduction to a unique body of work. At different times Tibbetts might seem closer to minimalism, alternate rock or ambient music, yet his artistic signature is unmistakable.
Hellbound Train ist eine Doppelalbum-Retrospektive von Steve Tibbetts mit einer Musikauswahl des US-Gitarristen aus 40 Jahren ECM. In je ein elektrisches, ein akustisches Kapitel unterteilt, stellt diese Sammlung Stücke gegenüber, die ursprünglich auf den Alben Northern Song, Safe Journey, Exploded View, Big Map Idea, The Fall Of Us All, A Man About A Horse, Natural Causes und Life Of erschienen sind. Mit seinen fließenden Melodien und Texturen, hypnotischen Mustern und Pulsationen – subtil von der Musik diverser Kulturen beeinflusst – handelt es sich hierbei um eine ideale Einführung in Tibbetts einzigartiges Werk.
Featured Artists Recorded


Original Release Date


  • CD 1
  • 1Full Moon Dogs
    (Steve Tibbetts)
  • 2Chandoha
    (Steve Tibbetts)
  • 3Lochana
    (Steve Tibbetts)
  • 4Black Temple
    (Steve Tibbetts)
  • 5Burning Temple
    (Steve Tibbetts)
  • 6Glass Everywhere
    (Steve Tibbetts)
  • 7Roam And Spy
    (Mike Olson, Steve Tibbetts)
  • 8Hellbound Train
    (Steve Tibbetts)
  • 9Nyemma
    (Steve Tibbetts)
  • 10Your Cat
    (Marc Anderson, Steve Tibbetts)
  • 11Vision
    (Marc Anderson, Steve Tibbetts)
  • CD 2
  • 1Chandogra
    (Steve Tibbetts)
  • 2Climbing
    (Steve Tibbetts)
  • 3Black Mountain Side
    (Jimmy Page)
  • 4Start
    (Steve Tibbetts)
  • 5100 Moons (excerpt)
    (Marc Anderson)
  • 6Mile 234 (excerpt)
    (Steve Tibbetts)
  • 7Wish
    (Steve Tibbetts)
  • 8Ishvarana
    (Steve Tibbetts)
  • 9Bloodwork
    (Steve Tibbetts)
  • 10Life Of Someone
    (Steve Tibbetts)
  • 11Life Of Emily
    (Steve Tibbetts)
  • 12The Big Wind
    (Marc Anderson, Steve Tibbetts)
  • 13Aerial View
    (Marc Anderson, Steve Tibbetts)
  • 14Night Again
    (Marc Anderson, Steve Tibbetts)
  • 15My Last Chance
    (Steve Tibbetts)
  • 16End Again
    (Steve Tibbetts)
  • 17Threnody
    (Steve Tibbetts)
It sounds like hype, but it’s the truth: there’s no one like Steve Tibbetts. The Minnesota guitarist and composer has created a near-five decade body of work that straddles several genres (jazz, folk, rock, ambient, various types of world musics) without sitting comfortably in any of them. From delicate 12-string acoustic drones to raging electric firestorms to unidentifiable sonic explorations, Tibbetts follows his muse wherever it leads without ever sounding like anyone but himself. Despite his long career and the longtime patronage of ECM Records, Tibbetts remains an enigma in the music world – well-respected by critics and arts organizations, but rarely, if ever, cited by other musicians as a peer or influence, which seems astonishingly weird. After thirteen albums, with another under construction, Tibbetts apparently felt it was time to sum up his career to date with ‘Hellbound Train’ , a two-disk, artist-curated collection that attempts to tell the artiste’s story. […] from a listener’s standpoint the sequence makes sense, with a sense of flow most compilation records don’t have due to time jumps and a need to cover all the bases. Regardless, ‘Hellbound Train’ succeeds in its aim: it effectively tells the story of Tibbetts’ artistic vision, and encourages new fans to dig deeper.
Michael Toland, Big Takeover
Over the past four decades, Tibbetts has been creating a musical genre that is uniquely his own.  While it nods towards a wide range of left-field musical styles, none of the tunes settle into a single genre.  It is the continuous slipping between genres that characterises his playing as much as the bent, wobbly notes and fuzzy chords with which he punctuates the drawn-out tones wrung from the effects pedals to which he connects his guitars.  Tibbetts’ guitar sound, in part, seeks to capture the bent sounds of the Indian sarangi, and his travels in, and collaborations with musicians from, Nepal, Bali, Java, Tibet, Norway. […] Despite his travels, Tibbetts phrasing and melodies feel rooted in Western folk music, with tunes that carry hints of Irish and Scandinavian folk tunes and the blends of music which fall under the banner of ‘Americana’. […] It is often a surprise that Tibbetts’ music is not more widely known or celebrated and this retrospective gives the listener an opportunity to experience 38 tunes that he has picked from his ECM catalogue (11 on CD1 and 17 on CD2).  He calls his sound ‘post-modern neo-primitivism’ (an amusing word salad that is completely accurate - more than a nod here to another difficult to categorise guitar genius, John Fahey, who called his music ‘American primitivism’… perhaps Tibbetts would think the ‘American’ as too provincial but is too modest to use call it ‘World’).  If you are unfamiliar with Tibbetts’ work this is a great place to start, but you would also do well to revisit his back catalogue and hear the wealth of tunes in their original settings to appreciate how he has maintained a strong commitment to creating his own sound.
Chris Baber, Jazz Views
Ein umfassender und erstaunlich gut funktionierender Rückblick auf die bisherige Karriere eines der eigensinnigsten ECM-Gitarristen. Steve Tibbetts führt seine Hörer:innen auf dieser Veröffentlichung entlang bekannter Stücke auch in abseitige Ecken seines Werkes und zeigt ihnen Geheimtipps und Wiederzuentdeckendes. Eine höchst respektable Werkschau.
Sebastian Meißner, Sounds and Books
Magnifique double CD: 2 h et 6 minutes de musiques apaisantes, zen, un peu mystérieuses,  toujours cool. […] Musique d’ambiance, d’atmosphère, tournée vers la spiritualité et la nature. Ça apaise et c’est beau. […] On avance dans l’univers de Tibbetts lentement, avec précaution, et on admire.
Jean-Claude Vantroyen, Le Soir
This double album retrospective of Steve Tibbetts’s work for ECM is not so much a ‘Best Of’ as a ‘Best Steve Could Do’, according to the Madison, Wisconsin-born guitarist himself. That doesn’t mean this doesn’t represent a fine sample of his unique recordings but Steve Tibbetts applied the criterion of songs needing to fit together strictly. […] And it sounds great, with key elements present and correct: acoustic 12-string, distorted electric guitar (making a sound ‘like sheet metal torn to pieces’), drones, tabla, a vast array of instrumentation and, of course, someone playing a vase. If you don’t know Tibbetts’s music, the title track, with its wild, shifting percussion, is a great place to start.
Robert Shore, Jazzwise
‘Hellbound Train’ zeigt uns Tibbetts als Globetrotter der Moderne – und sein Markenzeichen ist die stilistische Offenheit. Er pendelt zwischen Jazz und Weltmusik, spielt auf zahlreichen Instrumenten, er amalgamiert Kulturen und bleibt doch immer ein Melancholiker, der uns die Zeit vergessen lässt. Gleichwohl hat diese Musik überhaupt nichts Einlullendes, vielmehr verströmt sie eine Frische, die man für den Berganstieg braucht. ‘Climbing’ (von der CD ‘Safe Journey’) ist überraschend minimalistisch strukturiert, eine fantasievolle Etüde der kleinen Schritte.
Wolfram Goertz, Rheinische Post
‘Hellbound Train’ is an anthology of music from US guitarist, percussionist and composer Steve Tibbetts, drawn from his lengthy association with ECM Records. Presented as a 2 CD set, 40 years’ worth of music is neatly split across the two CDs, with CD1 featuring his acoustic chapters, and CD2 his electric episodes. At the core of it all though, is Tibbetts’ unmistakable artistic signature, covering a quite incredible body of work.
The tracks included here were chosen by Tibbetts himself, and for a newcomer to his music, it offers a fabulous selection to delve into. For long-term aficionados of the guitarist’s music, it serves as a very welcome reminder of the uniquely gifted ambience created by Tibbetts over the many years of recording for the ECM label. […] Whether listening to the acoustic, or the electric Steve Tibbetts, it is, of course, the multi-cultural aspect of his music that comes across in waves of glorious, atmospheric ambience. It’s like immersing yourself in a global menagerie of sound, focussed and resonating with a warmth and exuberance that is channelled from the instruments, emotion, and musical virtuosity of the world fused together with the heart and soul of the composer’s musical awareness.
Mike Gates, UK vibe
Die einzige Klassifikation, auf die sich das Label und der Musiker eingelassen haben: Eine CD hat er mit elektrischen Gitarren eingespielt, die zweite mit akustischen Saiteninstrumenten. Und so klingt der eine Teil auch rauer, in seiner verzerrten, manchmal schrägen Ästhetik und durchgreifenden Intensität wie Rock'n-Roll aus dem Himalaya. Das Trommelfeuer, entzündet an Congas (Marc Anderson) und Tables (Marcus Wise), gibt der Musik Bodenständigkeit und eine fließende Seele. Der andere Teil besitzt etwas magisch Stilles, etwas entspannt Reflektiertes. Improvisierte Folkloreklänge auf der Demarkationslinie Orient/Okzident. Kein Pathos, sondern waches Streben zum Licht. Zusammengenommen bietet ‘Hellbound Train’ atemlose Spannung auf der Grundlage individueller Freiheit. Ein zeitloses Ereignis, das gehört werden will!
Jörg Konrad, Kultkomplott
The album is assembled in electric and acoustic chapters in a collation of mesmerizing stories that have absorbed global music influences to create surreal sonic landscapes that emerge from the hologram to surround and embrace those who choose to experience Tibbetts's unconventional and distinctive art. […] In addition, ECM Records is known for its appealing cover art. Things go to another level here, with an eye-grabbing cover photo and— instead of ECM's customary cardboard sleeve over the jewel case—a sturdy cardboard box to house a cardboard trifold album cover. It is as if Tibbetts and Eicher knew they were giving the world something timeless and beautiful. And important.
Dan McClenaghan, All About Jazz
Une musique onirique, évanescente, où les sonorités trafiquées de guitare se mêlent à des percussions hallucinées, dans des volutes impalpables sur fond de boucles électroniques. […] L’occasion de découvrir un univers fantomatique tout en bribes, fait de textures à la fois liquides et aériennes et de pulsations organiques désarticulées, qui peut autant transporter que déranger, voire agacer, mais qui possède une indiscutable dimension picturale […]  un témoignage très respectable sur un engagement sans limite et un musicien-coloriste sans concession.
Félix Marciano, Jazz Magazine
A few questions for Steve Tibbetts
Hellbound Train is a double album anthology drawn from your work on ECM. What was the criteria for inclusion? How did you select the pieces? Is this The Best Of Steve Tibbetts?
It’s not exactly a “Best of.” It’s “The Best Steve Could Do.” That’s meant in the most positive sense. I made samples of the first and last 10 seconds of my compositions, mapped them out across the keys of three keyboards, and made labels with post-it notes and stickers. Songs I thought would work together seamlessly didn’t. What would fit together? I played the ending of every song with the beginning of every other song until a plot started to reveal itself. Some of the compositions just don’t work well outside of the album they live in. My album Yr is its own thing. The same is true for most of Natural Causes and Life Of. Those compositions don’t prosper well outside of their own habitat.
Artists can put images or music together, and think, “Well, that’s pretty good. That works.” But the next day when you flip on the lights it’s often clear that you’ve been performing experimental art taxidermy. The artist has to be able to listen for that little bell, the sound a friend of mine calls “the ring of truth.” The artist has to be aware when the little bell is silent.
Hellbound Train came together easily; the edges welded themselves. The sequencing makes sense, has the ring of truth, furthers the narrative, and fulfills similar inscrutable aesthetics.
In terms of representation, there is a lot more music from Big Map Idea, The Fall of Us All and A Man About A Horse than from either earlier or later albums. The collection hones in on middle-period Tibbetts. Can you say something about your musical/artistic development in this time? It seems to roughly coincide with the period when you were travelling for the Naropa Institute.
Working jobs in new cultures meant I needed a mind receptive to other ways of thinking. Money is a challenging, highly loaded subject in any culture. I had to hire people in Asia and I made some clumsy mistakes; Minnesota rules didn’t translate. Being aware of the possibility of black magic isn’t an everyday concern when hiring contract labor in St. Paul, but Wayne Vitale told our group that in Indonesia it was something to be aware of.
A side effect is that a kneaded, rubbery mind can set the stage for new ways of thinking about music. I didn’t have to try; my mind was already malleable from having to work with visas, transportation, government officials, food, proper attire and comporting oneself with some measure of dignity. New ways of absorbing music and sound just snuck in.
You are known as an inventive guitar player, trying new tunings and techniques to achieve previously unknown chords, shapes and sounds. How do you develop what works for you and your pieces, or are the pieces themselves sometimes a result of new tunings and chordal/modal discoveries?
About 20 years ago I settled on the tuning I use for electric and acoustic guitar, dropping the A string down to a G and the low E string down to a C. On acoustic and electric 12-string I use that same tuning, but with everything dropped another whole note. That gives me a nice drone on the low strings. It also means everything tends to be in the same key, but that doesn’t concern me so much. A lot of the world’s music stays in the same key
Do the electric compositions work acoustically and vice versa? Have you experimented with this?
The electric guitar and amp I’ve been using since 1984 have an antagonistic electronic relationship that depends on electricity. If I turn the guitar towards the amp, the amp starts to overload and make a frightening ripping sound, like sheet metal being torn to pieces. Electronic storms like that don’t live in acoustic guitars.
The acoustic 12-string has its own world. It’s built a small concert hall inside itself from 50 years of playing. When the wood is warmed up there’s a resonance, an extra voice that I’ve never found in other guitars.
What’s the origin of your interest in drones?
“Tomorrow Never Knows.” When Revolver was released faithful Beatle students played the album incessantly. None of us knew what that sound was that opened up that song, but we knew it was the right thing. When I worked in Nepal and Bali I got used to living in the daily world of Tibetan ritual drones and the cyclical steady-state world of Balinese Gong Kebyar, which is drone-like in its own way. Drones and gong cycles were something new to settle into when I was far away from my studio and music making.
Being away from your own music for a few months every year can give your mind a much-needed blank canvas, for better or worse. Your open mind will soak in the drones and cycles.
The blank mind-canvas can host sounds you’d rather not be humming all day as well. I lived next to a monastery in Boudhanath that started morning rituals at 4AM, longhorns blasting the first three notes of “Three Blind Mice.” In Ubud I lived by a rooster that crowed Morricone’s theme to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly at sunrise.
Of your musical associates, we know meanwhile something about Marc Anderson, much less about the other contributors. Could you say a few words about some of them and what they’ve brought to the music. And what kind of vase does Tim Weinhold play?
Michelle Kinney can bow her cello so it melts into the music. She can coax harmonics out of the cello that make it appear and disappear with the 12-string. It’s there and not there. I don’t know anyone else who can do that.
Marcus Wise is my friend and compadre. When I thought I’d take a stab at learning to play tabla in the 70s I sought him out and studied for a few months. Years later Marcus called me at my studio and suggested that I go to what would be one of the most important concerts of my life.
Marcus told me I must not miss a concert by the tabla virtuosos Alla Rakha and his son Zakir Hussain. I was impressed with the father-son tabla pyrotechnics, but what truly seemed to reorder my mind was the playing of the great sarangi player Sultan Khan. Sultan Khan sat on the stage and gazed abstractly around the auditorium while drawing deep, almost voice-like sonorities from his instrument. In his hands the sarangi seemed nearly hallucinogenic in its ability to evoke landscape and emotion in the field of consciousness. I felt like I was watching a tableau of the sun rising over the Ganges superimposed on the auditorium’s stage. I listened to a cassette of the concert over and over. It began to warp my musical brain. It seemed that there was a way to say more by doing less.
Tim Weinhold plays a vase his wife bought to put flowers in. Tim being Tim, he played it before it saw any flowers.
The musicians I work with are people I trust and know almost exclusively through Marc. He’s the musician in town who knows everyone, and who knows who will be right for what I’m working on.
The anthology also marks 40 years of recording for ECM. What’s next in your musical journey?
Right now I’m working on a project with Marc and others. It’s emerging as big, sad, strange, planet-colliding music. Marc is hitting his drums pretty hard, and I’m enjoying the firefight between the Stratocaster and Marshall. The 12-string is happy and resonant. It all sounds good, and the better it sounds, the slower we work.
When that project is finished, I’ll move my studio from the building I’ve been in for 36 years to my home. With my children gone I can move a few instruments into the girls’ childhood room and settle into some time with 12-string and piano. I’ll spend time looking out the windows. We live on the edge of a small forest. Visitors include coyotes, turkeys, deer, possums, racoons and lots of birds.