Ruf Records GmbH [Release date 09.03.18]
Victor Wainwright is a musician in motion. Where once he led the ‘Wildroots’ and briefly settled on ‘Southern Hospitality’, he’s spreading his musical roots again with ‘Victor Wainright And the Train’.
Newly signed to Ruf records, a label that has invested a lot of time and energy into new blues talent, Victor Wainright is the perfect fit. He’s a creative force and an original songwriter unafraid to push the blues boundaries into heartfelt and humorous songs, on a kick ass album that re-energises the whole genre.
A multi award winner, you get the impression that Wainright isn’t so much interested in carrying home the prizes as simply making a connection with as many people as possible. And that is exactly he does on an album that redefines the blues genre.
His high octane opener ‘Healing’ is offset by the Roomful Of Blues horn section of Mark early and Doug Wooverton. They fatten out the sound on a statement of intent that ebbs and flows from flat out rocking to near introspection before returning to the groove with a bang.
Most significantly, its a real band arrangement that drops down to frame Victor’s emotive vocal, before some fiery guitar and B3 interplay leads to a climactic finish which find him on piano.
‘Wiltshire Grave’ shifts his geographic and musical focus from Memphis to New Orleans for a jazz arrangement with a gritty vocal that would make Dr. John smile.
And Dr John is a major influence here, on an album that explores a wide range of styles, but is predicated on Wainright’s ability to phrase emotively and weave his lived in vocal round meaningful lyrics.
He does so beautifully on the closing ‘That’s Love to Me’ which perfectly bookends the album. It also suggest that for all his inclination to musically creep towards the crater’s edge, it’s the blues that is his spiritual home.
‘Train’ is the kind of fist pumping boogie that you might have imagined this record to be about. It takes off with combination of fiery piano and train time bv’s punctuated by horns as victor rocks out imperiously.
‘Dull Your Shine’ is the complete opposite, his vocal evokes both Dr. John and Randy Newman on a good example of the primacy of the song. It’s also a good example of how he channels his focus into a beautifully paced soulful blues that casts himself in the role of a romantic. The staggered beat creates plenty of space and a subtle tension that Wainwright resolves with a piano solo over a horn avalanche.
‘Everything I Need’ is similar, as he on emotes his feelings and draws the listener in on another spacious arrangement with a tic-toc rhythmic heartbeat.
The more you dip into the album the more the ‘Train’ metaphor reveals itself on a musical journey that takes in blues, rock and roll, gospel, soul and funk.
He’s equally good in each genre, simply because his song and respective musical directions are essentially interlinked.
On the gospel inspired ‘Righteous’ for example, the band build up a big groove on the back of Josh Roberts’ slide guitar part and Reba Russell fine bv’s on a song that finishes all too soon.
He explores funk on the humorous tax song ‘Money’, which features a crisp guitar solo from Harrington and some lovely rolling piano as the band stretches out.
Such is the originality of this album, that ‘Thank You Lucille’ his soulful and beautifully crafted ode to BB King featuring Monster Mike Welch on guitar actually sounds closer to Sam Cooke and feels a little staid.
‘Boogie Depression’ redresses the album’s balance, as he rocks out to the max on a jumping track with a defining line: “playing the piano to cure my depression.”
It’s also a track that taps into the album’s essential flow, as Victor Wainright is an artist with a bigger picture in mind.
He’s not done with goodtime rocking, as he leans into the humorous stop-time horn pumping, boogie rocker ‘I’ll Start Tomorrow’.
And just when you think he’s revealed his full hand, up pops the Floydian intro to ‘Sunshine’ (think ‘Echoes’,) with an additional Hawaiian into psychedelic guitar touches, on a southern rock style piece that finds the band stretching out impressively.
Wainright is a generous band leader who allows the band to colour the track before he adds his own B3 solo, leading to a frenetic horn led outro, on a snapshot of what it must be like to catch the band live.
‘Victor Wainright And the Train is a fine contemporary roots album that searches for intensity, deep emotions, rib tickling humour and above all inspired music.
If you’re searching for meaningful context for the blues in 2018, you’d be hard pushed to find a better example. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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