Once I got past my musical vision—or to call it what it really is, personal dream—of Peter Wolf resurrecting his Wolfa Goofa soul power persona from his J. Geils Band years for an album’s worth of temperature-rising rhythm and blues, I readjusted my expectations and kicked back to what Wolf has put together. Midnight Souvenirs tackles the romantic and physical longing and heartbreak that takes place before the harsh lights that come up after a bar’s warning of “last call” or the dawn’s first rays of sunlight. If asked what would rock ‘n’ roll sound like when it grew up, this album could serve as a strong example. It’s filled with pristine song structures amidst a genre-jumping world of R&B, blues, country, Crescent City funk, disco and roots rock.
In several instances I receive something close to my wish. “Overnight Lows” with its string-drenched Philly Soul atmosphere that finds Wolf going into his fast-talking rap mode as he negotiates a night of pleasure with another woman (“We’ll put a little bit of that Grateful Dead on and we’ll jam, baby/ we’ll jam all night long/ just you and me/ I’m talkin’ about ecstasy!”) The end result is up to the listener since he follows that number with a nice take of Allen Toussaint’s “Everything I Do (Gonna Be Funky).” Either he’s celebrating or he’s creating a new plan of attack. With female backup singers to interact with during “Watch Her Move” Wolf revives the Stax mentality, while “Thick As Thieves” moves into gritty Delta blues territory.
“Tragedy,” a duet with Shelby Lynne opens the album. The title refers to the possible end of their union. There’s a fine chemistry between the two as the give-and-take throughout the song leads to a result that’s more playful than tragic; the realization that this is the latest spat of many in the past and more to follow. Wolf also shares the mic with Neko Case on the elegant “The Green Fields of Summer” and Merle Haggard on melancholy “It’s Too Late For Me.” With Oscar-winning songwriter Will Jennings and Grammy-winning Angelo Petralia on hand, a crack backing band that includes guitarist Larry Campbell and vocal contributions from Lynne, Case and Haggard, the 14 tracks have a pedigree that’s nothing short of stellar. Wolf has won me over, and offers enough pleasures for me to patiently wait for the Wolfa Goofa to arrive some other day.