Victor Wainwright and the Train’s Memphis Loud explores other Southern cities, with horns pulled straight from New Orleans and a bombast from Huntsville, Alabama, birthplace of Ronnie “The Hawk” Hawkins, the singer who brought The Band together. Geographic imprecision not withstanding, Memphis Loud is wild, piano-driven rock and blues that sets a mood, taking you to a variety of times and places.
Wainwright is a singer/pianist, so it’s almost standard to go straight to the Dr. John comparisons. While Wainwright’s voice doesn’t have John’s texture, both punch unexpected syllables to launch the vocals out of the groove, making them pop. Both artists share a love of horns and of course, the piano. Wainwright’s piano playing is impressive and easy to hear in the mix, but it’s often not the center of the song. The choice results in tracks where the piano is more front-and-center, you can appreciate his talents, but on the denser track, Wainwright’s piano is often one of a few entertaining elements.
The title track demonstrates Wainwright’s willingness to share the spotlight with his colleagues. The song begins with uptempo piano and horns alternating turns before laying over each other, settling into a 50s groove that’s part march, part country, and pure throwback rock and roll. When you’re putting together horns and piano, it’s easy to lose the blues rock thread and shift the tune into something more Broadway-sounding, but Wainwright never drops focus, maintaining the rock and roll energy throughout the track.
Wainwright also features some hot guitar work across the album. “Recovery” is practically a country song, with Wainwright delivering an earnest vocal performance. The song builds, a la The Band, with horns, piano, and guitar joining the track, pushing Wainwright’s voice the whole time. The song eventually releases into a stinging-yet-lyrical guitar solo courtesy of Monster Mike Welch. It’s reminiscent of so many of those 1960s soul tracks where a genius guitar player plops a stunning solo into the song with the casualness of someone scooping pudding into a bowl. “Disappear,” slow and soulful, features guitarist Greg Gumpel with a solo that practically sings to you, reminiscent of the simple, relentless beauty of Paul McCartney’s gorgeous “Maybe I’m Amazed” guitar solo.
It took me a while to get into this album because the rock and roll heartbeat of the album is protected by horns and piano. But as I listened more, I came to appreciate what Wainwright does here. The tracks build slowly out of rock and roll frames into soul and rhythm and blues but always return back. The guitar work is melodic, with string bends and vibrato used to make subtle blues points. Memphis Loud feels like Wainwright is building on the work of The Band, adding more complex horn charts and jazzier song structures, but remaining true to the mostly Canadians’ band ideal of celebrating American music but always bringing the song back around to rock and roll.
The Review: 8.5/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Memphis Loud
The Big Hit
– Memphis Loud
Review by Steven Ovadia