History Train

These days, the fastest way to establish your credibility as an authentic country artist is to depict yourself as a deadly threat to the countrymusic establishment. The underground club scene is rife with honky-tonk purists who like to pretend that they're scaring the Stetson out of Nashville by playing music that would have enticed their grandparents to the dance floor.

So it's easy to feel skeptical when Wayne "The Train" Hancock proclaims that he is the "stab wound in the fabric of country music." Truthfully, Hancock is no revolutionary, unless you consider historic preservationists to be revolutionaries. But he is one of the best examples of alt-country's obsession with an era when C&W was the voice of rural America and not a generic bastion for failed rock journeymen.

Hancock's barnyard yowl is simply not of this century, and while he never imitates Hank Williams, he reminds you of the way Hank cut through all the nonsense of daily life with every twangy stretch of a vowel. Since debuting in 1995 with the Lloyd Maines-produced Thunderstorms and Neon Signs, the Austin-based Hancock has tirelessly mined the sounds of a decade bookended by the end of World War II and the beginning of the rock 'n' roll explosion. You can hear it in the Western jump 'n' jive of "That's What Daddy Wants," the honky-tonk hedonism of "Juke Joint Jumping," and the jazzy balladry of "You Don't Have to Cry."

Most telling is Hancock's cover of the classic "Brand New Cadillac." Rather than basing his version on The Clash's well-known, punky interpretation, he reverts to the song's more obscure rockabilly origins. Plenty of musicians specialize in taking American music back to its sources, but few understand those sources as well as Hancock.

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