Victor Wainwright And The Train – Memphis Loud
Ruf Records – 2020
12 tracks; 58 minutes
Victor’s last album (the first with The Train) was arguably his best ever and this one follows suit with another twelve original songs which range across blues, soul and gospel, taking an occasional diversion into jazz and rock. The core band remains Victor on keys and vocals, Pat Harrington on guitar, Billy Dean on drums and percussion and Terrence Grayson on bass; former Roomful Of Blues players Doug Woolverton on trumpet and Mark Earley on sax and clarinet appear on most tracks and producer Dave Gross fills in on guitar and percussion across the album. Guests include Victor’s former band mates Greg Gumpel (guitar), Nick Black, Stephen Dees and Patricia Ann Dees on backing vocals, plus Monster Mike Welch on guitar, Mikey Junior on backing vocals and harp, Chris Stephenson on B3 and Reba Russell, Gracie Curran, Francesca Milazzo and Terrell ‘Peanut’ Reed on backing vocals. Victor wrote all the songs, eight by himself and four with assistance: Greg Gumpel on two, Stephen Dees on one, Pat Harrington and Billy Dean on one and Chris Stephenson on one.
The band blasts straight out of the gate with three fast-paced numbers, each with hot horns and pounding piano. “Mississippi” pays tribute to the river that goes through Memphis and the Delta that brought blues to the world, Victor evoking the attractions of the area with a choir of backing vocalists numbering 8 in total! In “Walk The Walk” the pace increases yet further as Victor recalls some of his parents’ sage advice when he was growing up, Pat pulling out a rockabilly/country-tinged solo and the horns letting loose too. The title track has a frantic rhythm driven by Billy’s drums; it sounds like a train, most appropriate as this song is about one – the “Memphis Loud” of the title – and it sounds like a great ride!
Victor’s piano opens “Sing” solo before the horns enter, ‘growling’ trumpet and clarinet evoking the ‘jazz age’ and giving the song a very retro feel. “Disappear” is a fine ballad with a mournful feel that Victor sings convincingly while his piano work is superb. Victor winds up the tune with swirling organ and piano and Greg adds a wonderful solo which comes to a dramatic sudden stop. After the dramatics of that cut the next two tracks have a bouncier feel: “Creek Don’t Rise” has a lighter sound and a joyful chorus and “Golden Rule”’s jagged rhythms bring a faint latin feel which contrasts with Pat’s freaky guitar solo. Victor gets serious again with “America” as he addresses some of the problems his country faces, the tune graced by a lovely solo from Mike Welch.
The final four songs show both the humorous and serious sides of Victor’s songwriting. Victor finds himself down on his luck or, as he puts it, at the “South End Of A North Bound Mule”, Pat and Greg adding a little country twang, but recovers to tell us all about “My Dog Riley”, a lively tune which rushes along as Victor tells us all about Riley’s idiosyncratic behaviour – drinking out of the toilet, searching through the trash and rolling in the mud straight after his bath! In total contrast “Recovery” deals with getting through difficult moments and putting bad things behind you: “when life seems broken reach for more than who you are”. It’s a fine tune with outstanding solo contributions from Mark Earley and Mike Welch and its vaguely religious feel becomes more fully focussed in the final track “Reconcile”. Victor sings of his life working and playing hard on Beale Street but still needing to know that someone is looking over him: “I can feel you with me, we’ll go hand in hand. I don’t know where this road will lead or when this path will end.” The song runs to over eight minutes but does not feel overlong as Victor takes his time to make this important personal statement while musically the song builds in intensity, Greg’s stately solo beautifully framed by the horns, making an impressive finale to the album.
The well crafted original songs, the mixture of styles and excellent musicianship all add up to another strong album from Victor and The Train.