"Here's to those who didn't think Train could ever roll again," frontman Pat Monahan sings on the title track of his group's sixth album, California 37 (* * ½ out of four). "You were the fuel that I used when inspiration hit a dead end." In context, the declaration sounds confident, not arrogant, coming from a band that many had written off before 2009's Hey, Soul Sister revived its career. "Truth is, it was attitude/Replaced greed with gratitude," Monahan sings later in the song.
At its best, California 37's emphatic bursts of melody are buoyant and life affirming, as on current single Drive By or bouncy mandolin number Sing Together. When the Pistol Annies' Ashley Monroe joins the group for Bruises, two high-school acquaintances bond over the wounds life has handed them. After all, "bruises make for better conversation."
It's also gimmicky at times. Given the chance to drop a pop-culture reference into a song, Monahan'll do it, and album opener This'll Be My Year comes off like a choppier version of Billy Joel's We Didn't Start the Fire. It does, however, contain one of the album's great lines: "I stopped believing, although Journey told me, 'Don't.' " The singsong You Can Finally Meet My Mom recites a litany of dead celebrities as a way to set up its bittersweet hook. Like that slightly bizarre song, California 37 isn't without its awkward moments, but it clearly has its heart in the right place.
> Download:Drive By, Bruises (feat. Ashley Monroe)