Despite all the permutations and possibilities of what is dubbed country music, the wrong hands just can't make it work.
For Texas native Wayne "The Train" Hancock, being the real deal while not sitting still is what it's about. At times a dead ringer for Hank Williams vocally, Hancock could parlay a novelty act at carnivals and classic car shows if the singer/songwriter didn't have such timeless tunes and a guitarist talented enough to be a Texas Playboy. While he may strike the casual as retro, his is more of an alchemy brewed before the musical apartheid, when country, jazz and blues could all play well together.
"I grew up listening to my parents' music " the '40s and '50s style " but we don't call it country. If you tell people you play country music, they think you're part of that yee-haw bunch out of Nashville," Hancock said. "Top 40 country songs today are all about falling in love at the city park and getting really, really drunk. Those are legitimate subjects, but that's not where I'm coming from."
Where he's coming from involves near-perfect murder ballads and tales of alcoholic despair and road life.
"You've gotta be careful when you write about real situations," he said, citing the domestic violence that inspired his 2001 song "Route 23." "I don't want people to think I'm morbid, but a lot of times, I do write about ugly things I've seen."
His darker tales dissipate at his live shows, where good-natured rowdiness rules the day. He will perform 9 p.m. Sunday at The Conservatory.
"Recordings are nice, but the audience interaction is better. We never use a set list; we play off-the-cuff for two-and-a-half to three hours. You'll burn out if you stay home, but if you drive to a show, you might as well stay and play," he said. "We line up in a row, all four of us. Everybody up there is a gunfighter. We don't use drums, so I'm playing chunk rhythm."
While Hancock, guitarist Izak Zaidman and the rest of his band keep things down-home for the most part, the singer said he and his fellow musicians have slipped the surly bonds of Earth on at least one occasion.
"'That's What Daddy Wants' was played on one space shuttle mission to wake up the astronauts. The guys from mission control brought a signed picture of the shuttle to one of my shows in Houston. At the time, I didn't even know what it was for," he said. "My folks always said I was out in space, though."
Wayne 'The Train' Hancock with Bloody Ol' Mule and the East Dallas Shufflers perform at 9 p.m. Sunday at The Conservatory, 8911 N. Western. Tickets are $12. "Tory Troutman