Some records define the times, and some records define what's wrong with the times. When it hits record stores on April 6, Peter Wolf's new album Midnight Souvenirs -- his first release in about eight years -- has a lot to tell us about what's missing from so much of contemporary music.
To listen to these 14 tracks is to spend time with an artist who has very big ears, whose work is marked by an abundantly evident love of an array of music: R&B, soul, early rock n roll, country, some jazz, some funk. It's welcome news to discover the firebrand who powered the J. Geils Band in the 70s and 80s still burns with the same passion for music these many years later.
Across his solo career, Wolf never managed to convert the early 80s success of the J. Geils Band, and as near as I can tell his solo debut, the very fondly remembered solo debut Lights Out (1985) is not available on CD.
Midnight Souvenirs (Verve) is a warm-sounding, beautifully recorded record full of great songs and great performances, including cameos by Neko Case ("The Green Fields of Summer"), Shelby Lynne ("Tragedy"), Merle Haggard ("It's Too Late For Me") and an homage to Willy DeVille ("The Night Comes Down"). But as he has throughout his career, it is Wolf who drives the record clear across musical frontiers and gleefully jumps from genre to genre in a way that, to my mind, was much more common, say 25 years ago and seems so alien now in our overly formatted, excessively labeled world. As inspired and inspiring as those cameos are, the jewel at the heart of this record is Wolf's broad taste and talent. Perhaps there are better singers and better songwriters in the world, but few who embody the generous spirit that defined the best music of the past 50 years, and defines so little of popular music today.
Midnight Souvenirs arrives at a time when the air is perfumed (or polluted) with rhetoric about the value of bipartisanship in politics. In music, Peter Wolf continues to reach across the aisle with spectacular results.