Train in vain

Pat Monahan, lead singer of the band Train, is a seasoned professional, both as a vocalist and as a public figure. Which is why, on the phone with Xpress, he’s able to answer questions despite the fact his tone suggests he’d rather gouge his own eye out with a spoon than do yet another interview.

Forget Virginia, meet Pat: Train front man Pat Monahan hopes fans will recognize him as a breakout solo performer.

Despite an off day, Monahan is at the top of his game. After 13 years of chart-climbing hits like “Meet Virginia,” “Drops of Jupiter” and “Calling All Angels,” the singer has just released Last of Seven (Columbia, 2007), his solo debut.

“It’s like back in the beginning,” he says of his current tour. People hear the album’s single, “Her Eyes” on the radio and assume Monahan is a new artist. He says listeners don’t immediately associate his solo work with his Train career—though Last of Seven shares plenty of similarities with Train’s hook-heavy pop sound. In fact, the one resounding complaint among reviewers is that this could easily be another Train album.

It’s likely fans aren’t disappointed.

Beyond catchy tunes (that just so happen to appeal largely to a soccer-mom fan base), and the occasional dorky line (“Says cowboy hats make her look fat” or “Spirit in the sky, can’t you see me cry”) Monahan is known for taking a heart-on-sleeve approach to song writing.

“There’s a certain feeling you get,” he says of the writing process. “If a song emotes a feeling, you’ve got a great song, even if that feeling is just, ‘I wanna shake my ass.’”

American Idol alum Elliott Yamin phones in

by Alli Marshall

Maybe it’s because he’s young (not yet 30) or still new to the pop-star game, or a polite Southerner at heart (despite last year’s move from Richmond, Va., to Los Angeles). But when I ask R&B vocalist Elliott Yamin if he’s had a chance to check out New Orleans’ French Quarter—where his tour bus is parked as he speaks to Xpress—he earnestly promises to do just that.

What do Yamin I’m a rising star? Elliott Yamin aims to revitalize R&B.

Actually, everything about the third-place finalist from Idol‘s fifth season is downright humble. From his unassuming underdog role on the talent-search show to his self-titled debut release, Yamin seems to make his mark by quietly surpassing all expectations.

For starters, the vocalist hardly looks like a soul singer—though he points out that he inherited his talent from his mother, who used to sing in a Richmond-based doo-wop group. Weaned on Dinah Washington and Stevie Wonder records, Yamin now claims, “I think I’m contributing to the movement of bringing back really tasteful R&B.”

And just how is he doing this? For starters, he co-wrote half the songs on his CD. He’s also a partner in the resurrection of Hickory Records, a defunct Acuff-Rose imprint probably most famous for Donovan albums. Yamin’s disc is the label’s first release since 1979. “I’m a partner in the record deal,” he notes. “I’d like to make it my own and bring other artists on.”

who: Elliott Yamin with The Last Goodnight and Josh Hoge
what: American Idol alum tours in support of his solo album
where: Orange Peel
when: Saturday, Nov. 3 (8 p.m., $20/$22, 225-5851)


For Last of Seven, Monahan penned about 30 songs and then whittled the list down to 14. Not every track is a winner, but soul-drenched rocker “Ooh My My,” sweaty, R&B-infused “Girlfriend” (written with guitarist Luis Carlos Maldonado, who is touring with the singer) and “Pirate on the Run,” a cinematic duet with Brandi Carlile, all stand out.

When asked why it took him so long to release a solo record, Monahan claims he was waiting for it to “happen organically,” and that he didn’t want to damage Train. However, at the end of the day, the vocalist is Train, and “Drops of Jupiter” aside, it could easily be argued that what keeps that group going is Monahan’s considerable stage presence.

Want proof? Check out recent YouTube footage of the vocalists’ tour, which includes several spur-of-the moment acoustic sets in intimate club settings. His candid banter with the audience is every bit as enticing as his spot-on vocals. Same thing with live footage of Monahan fielding the sometimes-tacky questions from radio-show hosts.

“I guess that skill comes from my father. He was always good at dealing with different personalities,” Monahan says.

That skill often translates into the warm, intimate repartee that seemingly renders Monahan everyone’s best friend. So it’s almost surprising when he reveals, “I can only be as important as people will let me. I let myself have a few people who are important to me.”

Then again, the singer notes that more than one fan has claimed “Her Eyes” was written just for them. Off day or not, more than a few people would like a place in Monahan’s inner circle.

who: Pat Monahan with I Nine
what: Front man of pop group Train performs greatest hits and songs from his solo album
where: Orange Peel
when: Tuesday, Nov. 6 (8 p.m., $25, 225-5851)

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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