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Wayne Hancock
 Thunderstorms and Neon Signs, DejaDisc CD DJD3221

 ...and a hot new honky tonker

Hank Williams once said "You got to have smelt a lot of mule manure to be able to sing like a hillbilly." If that's true, Austin's Wayne Hancock must have been raised in a stable.

Hancock combines the twang of classic honky tonk with the boyish mischief of rockabilly to come up with rough and rowdy music that alternately swings and rocks. Imagine a rockabilly raveup (standup bass, electric guitar) with delicious steel guitar and a country yodel.

Wayne doesn't so much sing these songs as warble, shout, scream, and yodel them. It's obvious from his boyish twang that he's having a blast. Most of these three minute joyrides are full of hip cats and crazy dancin' gals, juke joints and motels, trains and automobiles, all reflecting America's obsession with good times and the freedom of the road.

Kicks come in many forms. The intro to "Juke Joint Jumping" mirrors Gene Vincent's rockabilly classic "Bop Street" ("Hey Wayne," asks a band member, "where you goin'?" Wayne hollers "I'm goin' to go juke joint jumpin'!") and has a nifty detuned guitar solo that is a sly nod to fellow Austinian(?) Junior Brown. The call and response in "She's My Baby" is pure honk. The tune shifts fluidly between rockabilly-flavored electric guitar and a tasty steel guitar solo. "Big City Goodtime Gal" captures a hillbilly's fascination with a city woman, who (like the heroine in Eddie Cochran's "Twenty Flight Rock") lives in a highrise and likes to, er, party. "Double A Daddy" is a sign of the times starring Wayne as the designated driver encouraging his gal to tie one on ("I'm gonna do the driving/So you won't have to go downtown"), and featuring a sci-fi steel guitar solo reminiscent of Speedy West (see our review).

The two ballads are among the best songs on the album and prove that Hancock has a songwriter's knack for detail and a good-natured humility to boot. The title track is a bittersweet paean to the loneliness of life on the road, with Wayne using a yodel to nice effect in imitating the whine of wheels on the road. Similarly, "Cold Lonesome Wind" uses his plaintive wail and rough, weather-stained lyrics to paint a pensive reminiscence of home.

The only clinker is an overwrought version of "Summertime," a duet featuring Wayne's sister on vocals. Throughout, the musicianship is absolutely first rate (can everyone in Austin play this well?), especially Lloyd Maines on steel guitar. Sonically, the production is topnotch (great bass, sweet and dirty guitar tones, good presence) and is guaranteed to spoil you when you go back to those mono sides from the '40s and '50s.

As Joe Ely says on the liner notes, this kid is the real deal. There is not a trace of young country here, nor is there a whiff of rote rockabilly revivalism. I suspect Hancock has a long and fruitful career of Strum und Twang ahead of him. --Scott Boggan

production notes & song titles
Wayne Hancock, acoustic guitar and vocals; Paul Kelton, guitar; Bob Stafford, guitar; Ric Ramirez, bass; Lloyd Maines, steel guitar; Herb Steiner, steel guitar; Sue Foley, guitar; Kevin Smith, bass; Chris Perez, Michael Dietz, Bill Maldonado, Ric Ramirez, Lloyd Maines, background vocals; Stan Smith, clarinet; Rebecca Hancock Snow, vocals.

Produced by Lloyd Maines, engineered by Fred Remmert, mixed by Lloyd Maines and Fred Remmert, mastered by Jerry Tubb. 1995 release (43:58)

Juke Joint Jumping | Poor Boy Blues | Thunderstorms and Neon Signs | She's My Baby | Big City Good Time Gal | Ain't Nobody's Blues But My Own | Double A Daddy | Why Don't You Leave Me Alone | Tag Along | Cold Lonesome Wind | Locomotive Joe | No Loving Tonight | Friday and Saturday Night | Summertime

Copyright © 1996 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.