PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


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.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.