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Victor Wainwright and the Train: Memphis Loud
by George Graham
(Ruf Records as broadcast on WVIA-FM 8/5/2020)
The revival of soul-influenced music inspired by the 1960s hits from Stax, Motown and Atlantic, shows no signs of abating. In fact, it seems more relevant than ever as a counterweight to the software driven commercial pop that dominates the media. And there are quite a few worthwhile practitioners who are of a generation who are either too young or were not even born when the original hits were being made. One of the soul and blues revivalists who has been attracting a good deal of attention is Victor Wainwright, who has just released the second album with his current band The Train. It’s called Memphis Loud.
Both Victor Wainwright’s father and grandfather were blues players, so the family business continues. Wainwright grew up in Savannah, Georgia, and played in a blues band during his high school years. However, his education took him in a different direction, studying psychology and Air Traffic Management. He moved to Memphis and worked as an air traffic controller, but in that very musical city, the pianist, singer and songwriter found a fertile environment for cultivating his music. In 2005, he released an album called called Piana from Savannah, and began working with the group of musicians who would be with him on his various projects, including a band called the Wildroots. His work started attracting attention, winning various blues awards, including the Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of the Year, two years in a row.
In 2018, Wainwright released Victor Wainwright and the Train which more or less put him on the map in the contemporary blues world. The album was nominated for a Grammy Award as best album that category.
His new release, Memphis Loud is somewhat more wide-ranging stylistically than its predecessor two years ago, with a couple of ballads, a strong dose of soul influence, some boogie woogie and compositions that are more musically complicated than typical for the blues, and even a track that evokes cabaret style. But it’s basically a good-time album. The band remains similar to the last release, with a heavy dose of horns, Memphis style, throughout the album, though there are some musical guests including “Monster” Mike Welch on guitar. The regular band includes Wainwright on keyboards and lead vocals, with guitars from Pat Harrison and Dave Gross, long-time colleague Terrence Grayson on bass, Billy Dean on drums, and horn players Mark Early on sax and Doug Woolverton on trumpet. As on many classic Memphis soul albums, the horns are prominent but tend to be textural, with not a lot of soloing.
Opening the generous, nearly hour-long album is a track called Mississippi, kind of celebration of things Southern. It’s low down and gritty, and like the rest of the album, has a great groove. <<>>
Typical of the good-time sound of the record is Walk the Walk, on which the horn arrangements really cook. <<>>
The title track Memphis Loud is another highlight. The band’s name The Train becomes the subject of the song in this cross between boogie woogie and Gospel influence. <<>>
Perhaps the album’s biggest surprise is a song called Sing, which seems like curious amalgamation of cabaret with bit of burlesque. It still comes off in the spirit of good fun. <<>>
Wainwright can do a great soulful ballad when he wants to, and this album features a first-class example, Disappear. <<>>
Another highlight of Memphis Loud is Golden Rule whose lyrics are about what the title says. It has an interesting groove with hints of Motown, while Wainwright puts in one of this best vocal performances on the album. <<>>
One of the more whimsical-sounding songs is South End of a North Bound Mule whose lyrics are about hard luck, but the tune bounces along with an infectious groove. <<>>
Wainwright also pays tribute to his canine friend in a song called My Dog Riley. And who can dislike a cute, soulful song about a dog. Wainwright gives it a kind of New Orleans sound, to make it all the more appealing. <<>>
Thirty-nine-year-old pianist, vocalist and songwriter Victor Wainwright has been one of the bright lights in the blues and soul revival movement. He beings a great sense of musical authenticity to his work, along with an impressive energy level and a knack for writing songs that have all the right ingredients. On his new album Memphis Loud he broadens his musical pallet a bit, encompassing Memphis, New Orleans, and Motown influences, along with a twist or two along the way. His horn-laden band is first-rate and very tight on the new recording. Even on the sad ballad or two, it’s music that makes you feel good.
Our grade for sound quality is about a B-minus. The audio is badly over-compressed and sounds like an over-saturated analog recording, killing the warmth of the horns and wiping out the power of the drums. But at least the vocals were recorded better than on his last album where there was intentional distortion.
If you’re looking for a good time soul and blues album to have a little musical party, in 2020, you can’t get much better than Victor Wainwright.
(c) Copyright 2020 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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