Had Jon Favreau’s 1996 classic Swingers brought back country-western rockabilly instead of big band swing, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s lounge shows could have easily been replaced by Wayne “The Train” Hancock performing in a modern honky-tonk. Though honky-tonk revival doesn’t garner the attention that the Nineties’ swing renaissance did, Hancock is content perfecting his craft in relative obscurity. As his website notes, he is “an anomaly among his country music peers,” as he takes on not only a genre steeped in tradition, but also elements of jazz, blues, and Depression-era pop.
On Viper of Melody, Wayne Hancock manages to cover nearly every aspect of country music, from bluesy lovesick ballads to catchy songs that tell classic stories of wanderlust, such as “Driving My Young Life Away,” a twangy tune with some stellar guitar manipulation that follows Hancock ‘cross-country as he speeds from gig to gig. The song also features some breezy calypso-like solos, which surface again in the title track and a couple others, giving the album an easy going feel, despite songs about being broke (“Throwin’ Away My Money”) and lonely (“Your Love and His Blood,” “Dog House Blues”).
Two surprising tracks on Viper are “Jump the Blues” and “Midnight Stars and You,” both covers of sorts. The first borrows heavily from “Jump Jive An’ Wail,” with Hancock singing “I wanna jump the blues and make the hard times swing / with the right kind of music you can do most anything.” While the song is missing the big band horns of the original, it’s success rests on Hancock’s solid interpretation of western swing. “Midnight Stars and You” is a country ballad reminiscent of that WWII staple “I’ll Be Seeing You,” and the album’s most sentimental song.
At first listen Viper of Melody may come off as a concoction of various country sounds, with Hancock trying to incorporate more western musical traditions than listeners can comprehend. But he blends these sounds into an accessible album that not only covers a lot of ground, but also highlights his talent for bringing old-timey tunes to modern country music.