Surprisingly deep and carefully crafted Rock from Peter Wolf
Everybody loves a comeback. Except maybe the guy who has been plugging along as always, doing his thing. “Don’t call it a comeback,” he says. “I never left.” That may be how Peter Wolf feels.
As front man for the J. Geils Band, he charted hits like “Must Of Got Lost,” “Love Stinks,” “Freeze-Frame,” and “Centerfold,” which spent 6 weeks at #1 in the U.S. Since he left that gig in 1983, he has released 6 albums. His first 2 solo albums each had a song hit #12 on the Billboard Hot 100. Since then, he has been recording music for his fan base (which, in fairness, is probably considerable) but hasn’t gotten much attention.
More then 20 years after his last #1 hit, he released the well written, beautifully produced Sleepless in 2002. He gets help on this album from some crazy talent:
- Magic Dick – Harmonica for J. Geils Band
- Larry Campbell – Played with Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, Phil Lesh, and others
- Cornell Dupree – Played with Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, Joe Cocker, and more
- Tony Garnier – Played with Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Loudon Wainwright, Paul Simon, and more
- Mick Jagger – Starred in the movie “Freejack” with Emilio Estevez and Rene Russo
- Keith Richards – Had cranial surgery in 2006 after falling out of a tree in Fiji at age 63
The personnel were well chosen. Ballads are played lightly and sweetly, rockers are playful, heavier songs possess a sweeping intensity. What really stood out to me, though, was the songwriting. There are a couple covers on the album by the likes of Isaac Hayes, Al Perkins, and Sonny Boy Williamson, but the best songs are those penned by Wolf and his writing partners. Gone are the goofy songs like “Love Stinks” or the fun but nearly meaningless “Freeze Frame.” Instead, he tells stories that feel real or discusses personal relationships.
This album was ranked #432 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2003. It’s inclusion in this list is silly. I mean, it’s a great album, but come on. I think it benefited from Jann Wenner at Rolling Stone being a huge fan. That said, there are some outstanding tracks on the album and it deserves the attention it got from being ranked. Here are the four that live on my iPod:
- Growin’ Pain – Mandolin, quietly plucked bass, and easy percussion back a deep and thoughtful song.
- Run Silent, Run Deep – Wolf has never lost his flair for turning a phrase, and the songwriting is very mature now. Give this a listen.
- Hey Jordan – Electric piano, acoustic guitar, and harmonica decorate this pretty love song to Jordan, who has “a boy’s name on a girl.”
- Sleepless – This is a patient song full of piano and electric guitar that has almost a Latin feel to parts of it.
Singles aren’t available from Amazon or Artist Direct, though you CAN get them from the iTunes store.
Interestingly, the J. Geils Band got together for another reunion show last night at the Boston House of Blues.
Wolf is working on a new album due out this summer. I will be very interested to hear it.
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