Wayne Hancock and the Mavericks make it feel like it's 1996 all over again | Bleader

Wayne Hancock and the Mavericks make it feel like it's 1996 all over again


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Wayne Hancock
  • Sandy Carson
  • Wayne Hancock
Back in the mid-to-late 90s it often felt that alt-country was genuinely a big tent, happy to accommodate all sorts of musicians dealing with roots music, whether they were reviving various old styles or colliding them, whether musicians recorded for indie labels or major labels. Those feelings have been shattered by the endless fragmentation and microcategories that have emerged in the wake of the Internet, where monoculture was trampled like dust. On Thursday night two of the scene's most acclaimed and popular acts from that era—Wayne "The Train" Hancock and the reunited Mavericks—perform in Chicago. Listening to new records by both of them has been something of a flashback; they still sound pretty much the same, but that music feels marginalized in 2013.

Ride (Bloodshot) is the first new album for Hancock in four rough years, during which he parted ways with his old band, did a couple of stints in rehab for alcohol, and separated from his wife. Still, you wouldn't necessarily know that the old-school Texas honky-tonker has been through the mill from the record, which traffics in the same sorts of themes and Hank Williams sound as all of his records dating back to his 1995 debut, Thunderstorms and Neon Lights. The title track, which you can check out below, is about as close as he comes to confronting problems: "What's the use in dragging about / When my baby ain't around no more / I'm gonna get out on some interstate and throttle down to 94."

More often than not he's engaging in a classic tear-in-my-beer lamentation—a skill at which he excels, since he's studied and sounds just like the master of the practice—often deciding that it's "Best to Be Alone." There's a surprising streak of violence in "Deal Gone Down," which is based on a bar shooting triggered by adultery—especially the opening line, where Hancock spits, "No-good son of a bitch—fucking my wife!" (the expletive is bleeped out) with unnerving anger. As usual Hancock's got a superb crew of musicians playing behind him, particularly Bob Stafford, who doubles on lead guitar and tailgating trombone, and steel guitarist Eddie Rivers. He and his band play City Winery.

In Time (Valory Music) is the first new album from the Mavericks in a decade (they split in 2004), during which singer Raul Malo has been busy with a solo career and his bandmates have kept active as sidemen with musicians as disparate as David Meade, Miranda Lambert, and Foo Fighter Chris Shiflett. But the music makes it feels as if no time has elapsed, picking up on the old retro-hybrid of dream pop, lounge kitsch, Tex-Mex, and soul that the band was purveying during the latter part of its initial run—with little trace of the country element that initially scored them some big Nashville hits in the early 90s.

Malo is in exceptionally fine voice throughout, generally overshadowing his band, who sound sharp if a bit facile. The production is a bit oppressive, with every square inch packed with sound, including ubiquitous guest horns that deliver soul licks on one tune, and mariachi festiveness on the next. On the opening track, "Back in Your Arms Again," the Mavericks come off like a polished, horn-stoked version of the Sir Douglas Quintet fronted by a Vegas crooner rather than a raspy-voiced shitkicker (keyboardist Jerry Dale McFadden spreads Tex-Mex organ licks all over the album). "Fall Apart" sounds like a polka written for Miami's expat Cuban community in 1959, while in "As Long as There's Loving Tonight," Malo makes like an unctuous Louis Prima tackling "Jambalaya." The album feels a little bloated, clocking in at 57 minutes and winding down with the endless rising and falling of the epic "(Call Me) When You Get to Heaven," where the singer improvises with melodic motifs like a salsero over backing vocals from the McCrary Sisters. My favorite songs are those where Malo unleashes his inner Roy Orbison as he does on "Born to be Blue" (watch its video below), but cumulatively the record is pretty swell even if it breaks no new ground. The Mavericks headline Park West on Thursday.

Today's playlist:

Todd Reynolds, Outerborough (Innova)
Idrissa Diop & Cheikh Tidiane Tall, Diamonoye Tiopité (Teranga Beat)
Clifford Jordan, Mosaic (Milestone)
Ran Blake, Grey December: Live in Rome (Tompkins Square)
Father John Misty, Fear Fun (Sub Pop)