by James Garcia Jr.
One of my favorite bands, Train, just came out with a new album, entitled: California 37. It doesn’t rank up there with important works like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, the first Boston album or Prince’s Purple Rain, but for Train fans like myself, it’s just what that proverbial doctor ordered, and I have been listening to it steadily since its release.
I have seen the band three times in concert: The California Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles, California, at the Palm Casino in Las Vegas and at The Big Fresno Fair, if that tells you anything about my devotion to everything that they do. If you like them as well, you’ll probably like the new stuff, too.
The band got their start in 1998 with the catchy hit “Meet Virginia” off of their self-titled debut. It was a quirky tune that is still one of their more popular requests. However, it was the monster title track off of their second album, “Drops of Jupiter,” which propelled them onto the mainstream consciousness in 2001. Since then they have had steady hits such as “When I Look To The Sky,” “Calling All Angels” (which is being played at the Anaheim Angels baseball team’s home games), “Cab,” “Hey Soul Sister,” and “Marry Me” from subsequent albums, My Private Nation (2003), For Me, It’s You (2006), and Save Me, San Francisco (2009).
Although original members Rob Hotchkiss (guitar and keyboards) and Charlie Colin (guitar and bass) are long gone, as is former Black Crowes bass player, Johnny Colt, who joined for an album and a couple of tours, the core remains of Pat Monahan (vocals), Jimmy Stafford (guitars) and Scott Underwood (drums).
California 37 was recorded in Los Angeles and San Francisco and is populated by songs that were mostly written during the tour for the last album. They took a few chances with this one, deviating from the usual fare by trying a couple of country-flavored tunes, “Feels Good at First” and the duet “Bruises,” featuring Country Music artist Ashley Monroe. There are also some bagpipes that appear in one track and an infusion of Spanish sounds in another. For my part, I love the band like a family member, so with this album as they dabble with those country flavors, which I usually am not a fan of, I can let it go.
The following are the highlights:
“This’ll Be My Year” – You may find the lyrical timeline that Pat sings a tad hoaky, but the chorus will end up inside your head before long and should be enough to lean this track into the winner column.
“Drive By” – This one is catchy and a safe play as their first single.
“50 Ways to Say Goodbye” – No one in my family (also Train fans) like this one, but I think it’s fun. When you hear the opening Spanish intro you may fear that you’ve had too much to drink and ended up married to someone you don’t remember in Tijuana. It’s that much of a shock to the system, but kind of cool.
“We Were Made for This” – Everything that Train does well is here. It has a sweet vibe, touching lyrics and understated vocals by Pat Monahan, as well as a rare display of guitar power by Jimmy Stafford.
“To Be Loved” – It’s a great track to finish the record. Train fans like me eat it up. It’s all warm and fuzzy and mid tempo, making you want to come back for more with subsequent records.
The lowlights on this album are some of the lame lyrics that Monahan whips out. They can be cute and amusing when used sparingly, but this time he goes to that well too often. On “Mermaid,” a song that beckons thoughts of Jimmy Buffett, drinks with colorful umbrellas and sand that one can never quite be free of, he sings, “Can’t swim, so I took a boat to an island so remote, only Johnny Depp has ever been to it before.” It’s a cringing moment, even for me.
If you follow the band, you may have noticed that it seems as if this is very much Pat’s band. His vocals and very often odd lyrical choices dominate nearly every second of the songs, while Stafford and Underwood mostly remain in the background. My main concern with Train is the fear that one day they will be labeled as Train featuring Pat Monahan. Pat is a fantastic vocalist and very underrated among his peers, but with the past few albums I have worried that there has been some hostile takeover behind the scenes. Who knows? Perhaps the band likes things just the way they are and care nothing for the spotlight or “showing off” on record. Thankfully, if a takeover has occurred and not merely just me being paranoid about one of my favorite bands, California 37 seems to hold the line.
The album is fun, moving at times, rocks a little for those who are growing tired of mid-tempo on every track, and proves to be a worthy successor to the very good and underrated catalog.
Check out another of James’ CD reviews–his review of A Different Kind of Truth by Van Halen.