Alabama 3: Last Train to Mashville Vol. 2

Christine Klunk

A3 (Alabama 3)

Last Train to Mashville Vol. 2

Label: One Little Indian
US Release Date: 2004-04-20
UK Release Date: 2003-10-28

Greatest hits albums are strange beasts. They can be a stellar introduction to an artist whose catalogue is huge. Don't know that much about the Rolling Stones? Buy a greatest hits collection and then fill out your library. This can work out beautifully.

But then there's Ace of Base. That band has a greatest hits record, too. And I don't know why. Something tells me they had a contract to keep and no new music with which to fill it. This exemplifies an unfortunate greatest hits collection.

Witness Alabama 3 (a.k.a. A3). Last Train to Mashville Vol. 2 functions as a Best Of -- of sorts. Rather than lining up all the band's radio hits (the theme to The Sopranos and ... anything else?), this album features totally reworked favorites from A3's previous records. The tracks range from stripped-down acoustic versions to soul-saturated lounge tunes. The album succeeds on two counts: 1) the songs stand alone as solid country and blues songs, and 2) these alternate versions prove that the band is versatile.

A3 are a strange lot. Boasting eight band members with such excellent names as The Spirit, the Rev. D. Wayne Love, and the mountain of love, this British blues/electronica outfit has been writing and performing some of the most down-and-dirty yet innovative rock music to ever not hit mainstream radio.

The band formed in the mid-'90s and released Exile on Coldharbour Lane in 1997. In 1999, "Woke Up This Morning" was chosen as the theme song for HBO's The Sopranos. This success didn't exactly skyrocket the band into the public eye or make the members filthy rich. However, they did keep making music. La Peste followed in 2000 with more Hank Williams- and Tom Waits- inspired electronic music. Power in the Blood marked A3's third full-length release, and Last Train to Mashville Vol. 2 is the follow up to that album of new material.

Last Train opens with an acoustic version of "Woke Up This Morning", a version that invokes a Nebraska highway disappearing into the distance rather than inner-city gangsters. Move The Sopranos out west and turn the clock back to the 1930s and now you've got the feel of this track.

On "Too Sick to Pray", singer Rev. D. Wayne Love mourns the loss of his youth and health. Granted, his sickness is due mainly to drug abuse, but "Just because I burnt my bible, baby / It don't mean I'm too sick to pray".

"Year Zero" features Rock Freebase's blues guitar and a knee-slapping, shuffling groove that advocates dancing "like it's Year Zero". "Speed of the Sound of Loneliness" is an excellent John Prine cover, originally released on the band's debut. Drummer L.B. Dope provides a shambling beat while the harmonica lends the otherwise upbeat tune a dusty feel.

"Bullet Proof", originally released on Power in the Blood, is transformed into a quiet soul tune both in Rev. D. Wayne Love's early-Tom-Waits-influenced vocals and keyboard player The Spirit's beautiful and simple piano melody. Also from Power in the Blood is "Let the Caged Bird Sing", an old jailbird song about flowers blooming on Alcatraz. "Woody Guthrie" is a biting commentary on post-Columbine-and-September 11th culture, written in Guthrie-like verses. The Reverend deadpans "the Stars and Stripes have got me jetlagged".

The Reverend's vocal inflections put him in another, older time period. And on this stripped-down record, Alabama 3 sound like they belong in a 1930s saloon out west, rather than a smoke-filled pub in London. Oddly enough, the two images aren't that disparate. Check out Last Train to Mashville Vol. 2 to get one idea about A3. Then listen to any of their previous albums to hear the original versions of these songs, and get a wholly different one. Discover a transcontinental group.

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.