Every time I stop believing that Wayne “The Train” Hancock is not a reincarnated Hank Williams—when I feel comfortable saying, “Maybe every honky-tonk throwback artist sings about driving lonesome highways in a reedy twang”—Hancock reaffirms my earlier beliefs with a set of killer road songs and a few stories about the last time he was arrested. This set, performed to a small but engaged crowd, has settled those inner arguments for good. As far as I’m concerned, he is the One True Hank.
It’s hard to say everything I love about Hancock. Maybe it’s because he rarely plays with a drummer; the beat comes from a slap bass and the Train’s own insistent, chugga-chugga rhythm guitar. Or because he doesn’t write a set list; most of the songs, including highlights “Highway 54,” “Thunderstorms and Neon Signs” and “Johnny Law,” were the result of shouted requests. Or maybe it’s his bracing honesty, masked in stage banter; after lamenting the marijuana laws, he said, “I’ve been in jail, like, 20 times for possession,” and later added, “I ain’t been to jail for two years. Guess it’s about time.”
But the thing I love most about Hancock is embodied by the lyrics to “Johnson City,” my request. He laments those whose only saving grace is “liquor and wild women,” and goes on to give his recipe for salvation: All I need with me’s my honey/And a thousand miles of open desert road. It’s so simple a thing, but I can’t name another artist who sells it with such charisma and conviction. Except, maybe, for the late Hiram King Williams. ★★★★☆