Victor Wainwright And The Train | Album Review

Victor Wainwright And The Train

Ruf Records – 2018

12 tracks; 62 minutes

New band name, new record label, Victor Wainwright has gone for a blank canvas while retaining the best elements of his previous music. Perhaps the intention is there to see on the clever cover where all manner of musical instruments have been formed into an old-fashioned steam train. The result is an excellent disc with many strong songs, all written by Victor (with assistance on three songs from previous band members Stephen Dees and Nick Black). The core band is Victor on vocals, all keyboards (and, on one track, ‘belly tambourine’), long-standing drummer Billy Dean, Terrence Grayson on bass and Pat Harrington on guitar. Roomful of Blues horn players Mark Earley (sax) and Doug Woolverton (trumpet) appear on eight tracks, Nick Black, Patricia Ann Dees and the fabulous Reba Russell are on B/V’s, co-producer Dave Gross plays varied guitars/percussion, Jeff Jensen acoustic guitar and there is a trio of guest lead guitarists: ‘Monster’ Mike Welch, Josh Roberts and Greg Gumpel. Several of those names will be familiar as members of Victor’s previous band The Wild Roots. Recorded in Memphis in January 2017, mixed by Dave Gross in New Jersey, it looks as if Victor waited until he had the right label to release the album but the wait was worth it.

Opening track “Healing” sets off at tremendous pace pushed by the horns, Victor urging us to all “board the train” and find salvation, the gospel overtones laid bare for all to hear as Victor pounds the piano, a ‘churchy’ middle section before Pat’s guitar, Victor’s wild organ and the choir take us home – quite a ride! “Wiltshire Grave” has a New Orleans flavour with Doug’s growling trumpet and Billy’s odd assortment of percussion effects, including bicycle bell, baseball bat and knife, before the rollicking title cut “Train” delivers a dose of Victor’s trademark boogie piano, the horns adding even greater propulsion to the frantic pace – just try sitting still to this one! Victor then shows a completely different side to his music on the soulful ballad “Dull Your Shine” (with Greg Gumpel’s delicate guitar work) before Victor recounts the humorous tale “Money” in which he is pursued for payment by the IRS and several shady characters.

Mike Welch lends his talents to the touching BB King tribute “Thank You Lucille” as his very appropriate guitar fills complement Victor’s heartfelt vocals on another highlight of the album: “Thank you for giving my mentor’s hands a place to rest, a place to call home. The thrill will never be gone, your music will always live on. That’s just the way I feel – thank you Lucille”. After that we probably do need a touch of Victor’s wit and energy which he delivers on “Boogie Depression” – “playing the piano to cure my depression”. Victor strikes a more serious note on the affectionate ballad “Everything I Need” before his rolling left hand starts up the gospel stomper “Righteous” with Josh Roberts’ slide and the backing vocalists helping Victor to whip up a storm. Victor’s great sense of humour comes to the fore on the hilarious “I’ll Start Tomorrow”, his response to advice on cutting back on his excesses, complete with boogie piano and a superb sax solo by Mark Earley.

The album closes with two extended tracks: “Sunshine” opens with Pat doing his best Derek Trucks impression over percussion effects and Mark’s flute before the tune develops into Jamband/Allmans territory, Victor even sounding like the late Gregg Allman on his short vocal part; “That’s Love To Me” is a heartfelt ballad over soulful backing with Victor on organ and Pat again showing why he is such a highly-rated young guitarist with a soaring solo.

There are several strong songs here that will doubtless grace Victor’s live shows. Probably best known for his larger-than-life personality and boogie piano, this album shows several sides to Victor’s music and should take him to the next level. Recommended!

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