Reared in Savannah, Georgia, he was steeped in the music of his father, a singer, and his grandfather, a boogie-woogie pianist. By 2005, he'd released his solo debut, Piana' From Savannah, and since then he has won six Blues Music Awards (including one for best pianist this year), charted #1 in the Billboard blues charts, and was nominated for a Grammy last year. He now calls Memphis home, and has assembled a crack band, the Train. And his latest album, Memphis Loud (due out May 22nd on Ruf Records), is a tribute to his adopted home and the musical history that he so clearly admires.
But Wainwright is not a roots purist by any means. "I believe that for roots music to grow, and reach out to new audiences, we have to push it forward,” he has said, and that is in keeping with the sounds of his latest record. The tip off comes immediately, as the opening notes of the first track create eerie chords you don't often hear from a blues band. They swell and grow into a pounding blues shuffle, but by then you know that your ears should be ready for surprises.
The overall sound is not exactly a Memphis sound, but an intriguing hybrid. Traditionally, Memphis soul, blues and R&B has had a more raw edge than the typical forays into such genres, and perhaps this group could benefit from more of that bacon fat. But the incredibly tight band does navigate the twists and turns of Wainwright's originals with vigor and verve, with the precision of a seasoned Broadway group that's found itself slumming, just for the fun of it.
This allows them to do justice to the stylistic curve balls that Wainwright throws us, from the aforementioned shuffle, to the solemn soul of "Reconcile," to the Ellington-esque, moody horns of "Sing." Like a renovated vintage car, this music wears a blues chassis, but surprises you with the heft and polish of the state-of-the-art engine that revs inside. Take it for a spin.
- Victor Wainwright & The Train