Review: Peter Wolf, “A Cure For Loneliness”; A Solid, Rootsy Return

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 As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never been a huge fan of the J. Geils Band. I do love the song “I Musta Got Lost” because, as my theory says, every band has one good song. “Flamethrower” was kind of a funky, fun tune, but past that I never got into J. Geils. The lead vocalist of the J. Geils Band was Peter Wolf and he always brought a little too much “Great Googly Moogly” schtick to the role of front man for me.

With that as a backdrop, imagine my surprise, when in 2002 I was driving down to the Plaza area of Kansas City and a Peter Wolf song came on the Public Radio station I was listening to. I had long since given up on terrestrial radio, public radio was the only place to find interesting, new music by the artists I loved. There’s only so many times I can listen to “Born To Run”. Anyway, I’m in the car and this song comes on, “Nothing But The Wheel” by Peter Wolf. It’s an amazing country-tinged weeper with none other than Mick Jagger warbling along on the harmony vocal. I almost lost control of the car the song was so good. I immediately went out and bought the album it was from, “Sleepless” and I must say it’s not only a great Peter Wolf album, it’s a great album period. It’s clearly his masterpiece. I read somewhere a critic who said, Wolf had put out a better Van Morrison album than even Van Morrison’s last record. High praise indeed. Not only Mick shows up, but so does Keith Richards on the bluesy duet “Too Close Together”. In the liner notes it’s funny to hear Wolf describe the different approaches Mick and Keith take to their craft and to the recording of a song. Keith’s guitar tech brought in a case of vodka and a case of orange soda. Who knew Keith drinks like a teenage girl. I love every song on that album but especially “Hey, Jordan” (“that’s a boy’s name on a girl…Hey, Jordan, don’t go home alone”), and “A Lot of Good Ones Gone”. It’s a must have in my books.

Then I went backwards in his catalog to “Fool’s Parade” his album from 1998 and while it was not the revelation that “Sleepless” was, it was real solid, rootsy album. I’m not sure what people mean when they say “rootsy” but I know it when I hear it. It’s real music, recorded by real musicians. There’s a grittiness to this music that I like. It’s not music you’d play at a party, it’s “sitting on the deck, having that last bourbon nightcap” kind of music. It’s 2 am, and you’re about to slip into bed with her…. or him, or both of them, I don’t judge. I think that pretty much captures the ethos of BourbonAndVinyl. After listening to “Fool’s Parade” I was a certified fan. Usually I go crashing through an artists entire catalog at that point, but I didn’t with Peter Wolf. Probably because one of his strongest albums, other than “Sleepless,” his first solo album, “Lights Out” is unavailable on CD, vinyl or download. I’m a completist and if you can’t get ’em all, why start.

At that point I thought I was done with Peter Wolf. It took 8 years, until 2010, for him to put out his follow up to “Sleepless”, “Midnight Souvenirs”. “Midnight Souvenirs” was another great album, better than “Fool’s Parade” but just shy of the greatness of “Sleepless.” There are two really great duets on the album – “Tragedy” with Shelby Lynne, probably the best song on the record and the amazing “It’s Too Late For Me” with the late legend, Merle Haggard (whose vocal is simply as smooth as smokey whiskey). There are many good songs on this album but “Lyin’ Low” is probably my favorite other than “Tragedy.”

Flash forward 6 years and Peter Wolf has again returned with a good, solid album in “A Cure For Loneliness.” I really like this record. I never really write bad reviews, if I don’t like something I choose to say nothing. I don’t want to fall into the “haters gonna hate” category. I’m more in the “eaters gonna eat” column. Anyway, “A Cure For Loneliness” is not a life changing record like “Sleepless” but it’s a great, solid record. It’s got that same, nightcap feel to it. There are a number of great songs here. The opener, “Rolling On” sets the mood with a story of a man quietly on his way. “Peace of Mind” and “Fun For a While” are beautiful songs, beautifully sung. Wolf brings so much emotion and dare I say, soulfulness to his singing, that I could listen to the guy all night. All of these songs have a touch of country, a touch of the blues and a whole lot of beautiful singing. “It’s Raining” is probably my favorite of the up-beat tunes, and by up-beat I mean non-ballad, there’s no full out “rock the house” tunes here.

My issues with the record are knit-picky. There are 2 live tracks here. I don’t know why but I’ve always felt like putting live tunes on a studio record is cheating but that’s just a personal thing. One of the live tunes, “Wastin’ Time” is one of the better tunes here but the other, a bluegrass version of the J. Geils’ song “Love Stinks” is awful. I wasn’t crazy about the original version of “Love Stinks”, although I certainly agreed with the sentiment for most of my young life until I met the Rock Chick, but the world didn’t need a bluegrass version of “Love Stinks”. “How Do You Know” is a good song here, but it was already released as a bonus track on “Midnight Souvenirs” years ago. Again a knit but it feels like cheating. In six years you couldn’t write one more tune? He does a ballad here, “Tragedy” (not the same song as the duet with Shelby Lynne on “Midnight…”) that borders on maudlin. “It Was Always So Easy (To Find an Unhappy Woman)” is a bluesy/country stomper that should resonate but for some reason misses the mark with me.

But again, I’m knit-picking here. There is a lot more to like here than to dislike. Peter Wolf is an older artist who is flying under most people’s radar and this record, or any of the records I’ve mentioned here, are worth checking out. And while tonight, in Salina, my pals the Four Horsemen of the Salinapocalypse will be enjoying Generation Axe’s guitar hysteria (Steve Vai, Zakk Wylde, and yes, Yngwie Malmsteen) I’ll be slipping up to my rooftop deck with a tumbler of bourbon, my headphones and “A Cure For Loneliness” to watch the dawn come over the Kansas City skyline. Peter Wolf will be the perfect soundtrack for me…

“A Cure For Loneliness,” despite it’s flaws, still gets the BourbonAndVinyl recommendation to buy. Pour something strong, and as always, Enjoy!

Cheers!

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