Peter Wolf: Midnight Souvenirs

Photo: Tracy Berglund

Former J. Geils Band frontman crafts another solo winner, mixing country, soul, and rock into an intoxicating late-night musical cocktail.

Album Name: Midnight Souvenirs
Artist Name: Peter Wolf
Label: Verve/UME
UK Release Date: 2010-04-06
US Release Date: 2010-04-06
Label Website
Artist Website

When Peter Wolf was the jive-talkin', diddy-boppin' frontman for the J. Geils Band, he presided over one of the greatest rock and roll house parties on the planet. Throughout the '70s and early '80s, the band's live shows were sweaty, legendary, and faces were blown out every night. Wolf was the master of ceremonies, quick-witted, hyper-cool, and a ferocious showman who grabbed audiences by their collective jugular and wrung them dry.

The party ended in 1983 and Wolf long ago sauntered away from the shadow cast by his previous band. The first of his seven solo albums was released in 1984. He has been out of the J. Geils Band much longer than he was in it. His body of solo work started with a few odd missteps. The first three releases were the work of a man who seemed more interested in grabbing onto a contemporary vibe than actually following his muse.

Then came Long Line in 1996. It was the first move toward a throw-back R&B sound that led to two underappreciated masterpieces: Fool's Parade (1998) and Sleepless (2002). Both received lavish praise from critics and featured the kind of timeless rhythm and blues, rock and country that has long been Wolf's favored musical canvas. Both pretty much flopped.

After a long layoff, as he tried to find his creative footing after the commercial malaise of Sleepless, he’s back with Midnight Souvenirs, a perfect bookend to the story of lost love, late-night ruminations, and the healing power of music that has long been his central message.

Call them nocturnal transmissions, because the notorious night owl sets the vast majority of these songs after the sun has long gone down, the bars are closed, and the one you love is so far away she (or he) ain't never coming back. It's you, your thoughts, and a bottle of wine (or whiskey would be fine)...and, of course, Wolf.

On "Midnight Souvenirs," just as he was with Geils, Wolf becomes the consummate guide through the night's ramblings. He's the hyper-cool friend who can rap for hours with equal authority about Lefty Frizzell or Don Covay and remind you how music can salve your wounds or give you a much-needed kick in the ass.

More than on any of his other releases, Wolf's latest pays serious homage to his love of country music. On Sleepless, the A-list guest artists were Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, but Steve Earle was on there, too. For his new disc, the guests are Shelby Lynne, Neko Case, and Merle Haggard, three artists who skew heavy toward country. Their contributions give Midnight Souvenirs its stylistic ballast.

Kicking off with the hook-heavy "Tragedy", Wolf and Lynne trade vocals that plant one foot in the soul firmament and the other in country, crafting a catchy tune that cleverly melds the two styles. Case elicits chills when her beautiful, expressive voice transforms "The Green Fields of Summer" from a slow, fiddle-driven ballad featuring Wolf to what sounds like a long-lost folk classic featuring a lush string arrangement.

Then there's Haggard. Wolf saves him for the final cut, "It's Too Late For Me". The song is a honky-tonk weeper that could've been lifted from the radio in 1954. A gentle piano melody propels the song forward, as Wolf and his hero harmonize on a slow-burning country blues. Its central lyric, "the night comes on / I'm all alone / with just my precious memories", captures the entire vibe of Midnight Souvenirs. The song is a powerful, lingering closer.

That is to no way indicate that this album is a maudlin bummer; far from it. Wolf blasts through Geils-like rock, dance-floor funk – "I Don't Wanna Know" and "Watch Her Move" (the latter is a sister thematically to the late-era Geils tune "Flamethrower") – and good time-y soul like "Everything I Do (Gonna Be Funky)" and the hilarious "Overnight Lows", which features a prototypical Wolf rap on a tune that could have been recorded by an alternate-universe Marvin Gaye.

Midnight Souvenirs is highlighted by pristine production. Like its two predecessors, the disc features a warm, deep sound with sophisticated arrangements that layer on background vocals, strings, horns, and meticulous songwriting while never sounding busy or labored. My only quibble with the album is a result of Wolf's infatuation with a wide swath of late 20th century musical styles, from country to blues and pop to doo-wop. The sequencing of the music gets a bit schizophrenic at a couple of points, most notably when two strong countryish tunes, "Always Asking For You" and "Then It Leave Us All Behind", give way to a pair of soul workouts. The result is jarring and gives the disc a little bit of a bolted-together feel instead of feeling seamless. That's nitpicking, though. Wolf gets a pass for being too eclectic, and Midnight Souvenirs deserves to be heard, preferably long after midnight.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.