Wayne Hancock has more handles than a chester drawers: The Train, The King Of Juke Joint Swing, The Father of Underground Country, The Viper of Melody. He deserves every single one of them, yet none of them nor all of them combined seem to do justice to the enjoyment and influence his music has dispensed over the years.
A new Wayne Hancock album is like a gift from the country music gods; the same gods that bestowed upon him the capacity to be the closest living thing you can find to Hank Williams today (according to Hank Williams III among others), yet still be a wholly unique artist who finds himself in the very exclusive ranks of true music originators–those rare musical souls who’ve germinated their own genres and genealogy trees full of new artists inspired by their work.
Ride is probably Wayne Hacock’s most personal album to date, released after what might be the most tumultuous period in his career. Immediately after the street date of his last album in 2009 Viper of Melody, Hancock lost his band in the aftermath of a skirmish between his guitar player and steel player. This set to spinning a revolving door of touring players that still has yet to fully settle, though has showcased some extraordinary talent along the way. Then there was the cancelling of some tour dates and a rehab stint, then a separation from his wife. Then another rehab stint. All of this drama is contained in Ride in both candid and veiled references.
“I had a good gal, that I loved so. We got married, not to long ago. But then my drinking got in the way. So she left me, a year ago today,” Wayne says in “Best To Be Alone.”
Wayne Hancock has a track record since 1995 of only putting out quality releases. Go ahead, take the magnifying glass and the tweezers out and poke around his discography all you want. You may not sit right with his style, but Wayne is a master at what he does. By featuring top shelf players and a fairly straightforward methodology, Wayne knocked out Ride in 1 1/2 days; jaw dropping for even some of the best performers. People of note joining Wayne on the recording are long-time producer Lloyd Maines, and Bob Stafford, also known as “Texaco” that you can hear Hancock calling out to Bob Wills-style in some of his most legendary recordings.
Ride continues Wayne’s trend of stellar albums, but for the first time you see some slight chinks in the armor. The very first time I heard the title and opening track “Ride,” I could hear a lack of energy in Hancock’s voice that I had never heard from him in the recorded format. There’s nothing wrong with Wayne’s voice, you just don’t feel the same passion you know he’s capable of. This again shows up in the second song “Low Down Blues,” a track he says he wrote the day before going into the studio. I don’t mean these songs capture the depressed emotion of the story, they just simply sound a little uninspired. An artist must be balanced not only against their peers, but against themselves, and on these first few tracks, Wayne feels tired; a little un-Wayne Hancock.
Wayne pulls it out though, at the same time validating the tired hypothesis for the first few songs when he offers a truly inspired performance on the gospel-esque “Lone Road Home.” From there on, you re-discover the Wayne Hancock you know and love, with a bounce in his voice and bounding rhythms that are hard not to be compelled by. Another Wayne Hancock wonderment is his ability to pen instant classics, and that’s what you get with the sultry, jazzy “Gal From Kitchen’s Field” and the fun “Cappuccino Boogie.”
On Ride, Wayne starts by showing a little wear on the tires, but then rallies to prove he’s got plenty of tread left. He’s not just The Viper of Melody, or the King of Juke Joint Swing, he’s Wayne “The Train” Hancock by God. And even if he hangs up his guitar tomorrow, he will still go down as one of the most influential artists in American music, a true forefather of Americana, and one of the originating sparks of the roots music revolution.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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