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‘Midnight Souvenirs’

Verve Records

What was the first thing that popped into your head when you read that? Led Zepplin? Queen? The Stones? Jethro Tull? Lynyrd Skynyrd? Rush? Metallica? Eagles?

Are you beginning to get a sense of where this album is coming from?

Peter Wolf Explores Roots of Rock

Rock is a by-product of diverse musical styles, varied geographic influences, and a melting pot of ethnic origins. More than anything, as a relatively young art form, rock is driven by artists’ influences. Read an interview with any rocker and if the topic surfaces, your average performer can reel off five major influences in less than ten seconds. Most performing rockers are as much fans of other artists as are their fans who buy their music and merchandise. It’s the nature of the beast.

Ironically, artists who are now considered classic rockers didn’t have rock to listen to as they were coming up. Their influences came from earlier musical forms. Like Muddy Waters said, “The blues had a baby and they called it rock n’ roll.” And country, soul, Motown, jazz and a few other genres found their way into rock’s DNA pool as well, and all of their influences can be found interwoven in the fabric of most contemporary and classic rock.

These wildly diverse musical styles all coagulate quite tastefully on Peter Wolf’s definitive homage to musical convergence, Midnight Souvenirs, his seventh solo effort in 26 years and his first in the past eight. Meticulously produced by Wolf and three time production collaborator/keyboardist Kenny White (check out White’s “Comfort in the Static”, a rare gem of a find) and Wolf’s frequent songwriting partner (and multi Oscar and Grammy winner) Will Jennings.

Tracking the Tracks

Peter WolfPeter Wolf photo by Michael Loccisano / Getty Images

Much has already been written about the three duets that appear on this body of work. There’s “Tragedy”, with some heavy moaning and soul-searing vocals from Shelby Lynne; “The Green Fields of Summer”, a haunting, almost ethereal recording that showcases the angelic voice of Neko Case; and the album’s closer, “It’s Too Late For Me”, a late night honky tonk tune best played after two too many. This stunning track finds Wolf exchanging harmonies with country legend, American treasure, and idol of Wolf’s, Merle Haggard.

Wolf has a history dating back to his first solo effort of brining his influences and heroes into his music-making mix. Mick Jagger appeared on Wolf’s 1984 debut solo album, Lights Out and on 2002’s Sleepless. Keith Richards, Steve Earle, and even Magic Dick from the J. Geils Band are a few others who have collaborated. My take on it is that Wolf has an uncanny knack for going to the bench and selecting the right player at just the right time. The duets here represent diverse styles, are genuine to the core, and are the kind of songs that could each chart in their respective genres.

Influences like Don Covay, Bobby “Blue” Bland, James Brown and Mario Medious can all be heard — in one song! “Overnight Lows” is a kaleidoscope of blues and jive layers, with our hero being Lola-ed in the end. Wolf’s wit is never too far below the surface. Humor and funk are resplendent in a re-work of “Everything I Do (Gonna Be Funky)” and “Lying Low” (a song that could be a first cousin to Sleepless opening track “Growing Pains”.)

All This and Pure Rock, Too

What could be called straight ahead rock cuts, “The Night Comes Down (for Willy DeVille)” and my personal favorite, “I Don’t Wanna Know” (which begins like something straight off of Exile on Main Street then takes a subtle turn and finds its own space) grabs you and doesn’t loosen its grip easily. If you opt for the iTunes download, there’s a bonus track that is patented Wolf sarcasm scat, “How Do You Know”.)

There are ballads, soul songs, blues numbers, country, raucous rave-ups and extra helpings of Wolf’s introspection. The songwriting is heartfelt — you can feel the authenticity. The players on this album include drummer Shawn Pelton, guitarist Duke Levine, keyboardist Kenny White, and multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell. There’s an Uptown Horn sighting and some of the most well-placed strings ever to appear on a rock album, each seemingly dropping in from out of nowhere on just the right downbeat and mixed in the studio to perfection. This album, as a cohesive body of work, has a musical depth and richness unlike anything Wolf has ever laid down.

I admit to being an unabashedly out of the closet Peter Wolf fan. But, in all candor, I was prepared for nothing like what I found on Midnight Souvenirs. Since the first time I saw Wolf with the J. Geils Band at the Fillmore East in 1971, he’s made some pretty amazing music. But never like this.


May 6, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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