Street Sounds: Train drops names

Music columnist Dean Gordon-Smith reviews Train's latest release, California 37.

On album No. 6, California 37, San Francisco’s Train inject more melodic pop sounds into their acoustic mainstream roots style.

Train’s been a  three-piece for some time now (Pat Monahan, vocals, Jimmy Stafford, guitar, and Scott Underwood, drums), with Monahan being the main writer, with outside help. This is apparent instantly, with Monahan’s classic pop-rock voice being front and centre in the lyrically dense material.

California 37 goes all the way vocally in name checking, date referencing, and autobiographical extravaganzas that act shamelessly honest in their sincerity. There’s nothing wrong with this, but some restraint might render the little history lesson less silly.

“In ’97, Tony Blair tips the scales, Elton sings for the Princess of Whales, Microsoft buys into Mac, My dad has his second heart attack,” Monahan writes in This’ll Be My Year.

A spell check could help as well…

The band’s melodic style works well, and logically, with nods to Mexico (50 Ways to Say Goodbye), Nashville (Bruises) and an entertaining venture into light R&B/rap (California 37). They display versatility, maudlinism and professionalism, if not individualism.

Of course, the band plays love songs like they believe them, even though Monahan continues name dropping throughout. Despite the heart-on-sleeve eye rolling sentimentality of lines like: “‘Cause I’ll be hanging with you, not Jimmy Hendrix, Jesus, or the dude who played the sheriff in Blazing Saddles,” in You Can Finally Meet My Mom, Monahan makes it work by using innocence as bravado – a bold and unlikely move. However, check the spelling again, boys!

Train’s best moments on this album are songs like Drive By and Mermaid. These tracks have more fire, and less literal lyrics than the rest of the record, and the group’s wide ranging embrace of roots-pop and mellow rock is given more bite. These are catchy songs that have more sex than saccharine. Cut the sugar.

–– Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon musician who reviews the latest music for The Morning Star in his weekly column, Street Sounds.