Earlier this month, the Mayor of Boston declared April 14th Peter Wolf Day. Frankly, I’m surprised it took so long. The Bronx-born Wolf has been an institution in his adopted city since the late ’60s, when he joined the iconic, genre-defying blues-boogie combo the J. Geils Band (following stints as a WBCN disc jockey and a student at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, where he briefly roomed with David Lynch). Arguably the greatest frontman in rock and roll, Wolf and his band were considerably successful throughout the ‘70s and became hugely successful in the early ‘80s when a pair of albums (Love Stinks and Freeze Frame) retrofitted their rock ’n’ blues sound for the synth-addled masses. Wolf left the band at their commercial zenith and has been cranking out solo albums on a semi-regular basis to this day.
A Cure for Loneliness, Wolf’s eighth solo album, shows a gradually mellowing Wolf (he turned 70 on March 7th), still in fine voice and experimenting with a variety of rootsy musical styles. There’s probably more of a country flavor to this album than in any of Wolf’s previous efforts, as evidenced by his rollicking, cry-in-your-beer cover of Moe Bandy’s “It Was Always So Easy (To Find an Unhappy Woman)”. Additionally, there’s a live version of “Wastin’ Time”, a Wolf original that first appeared in stark ballad form on his 1996 album Long Line. In lesser hands, this mid-tempo version would come off as standard bro-country, but Wolf’s mighty pipes elevate the whole song to a Stonesy swagger.
While still able to belt out a tune with the best of them, Wolf makes a few lyrical concessions to growing old. “Fun for Awhile”, a slow, low-key number (this album is surprisingly heavy on the ballads) fueled by brushed drums and nice instrumental touches like lap steel guitar and melodica, has Wolf confessing “Nothing could stop us then / No one could top us then / Don’t want it back again / But it was fun for a while.” On the other side of the coin, he also revisits past wicked ways in the considerably more upbeat boogie bluster of the self-explanatory “Mr. Mistake”. In other words, it may have been fun for a while, but the choices weren’t always wise.
Wolf has always tempered his soulful strut with a healthy dose of humor, and the closest thing to a novelty track here is the completely unnecessary (but still enjoyable) live bluegrass cover of the old J. Geils Band warhorse “Love Stinks”. Sure, it’s a throwaway, but the band sounds great and it’s sure to eke a smile out of even the most jaded fan.
Other highlights include the gorgeous “It’s Raining”, a song Wolf co-wrote with the late soul great Don Covay, which was intended to be a duet with the legendary Bobby Womack. Sadly, Wolf learned of Womack’s passing in 2014 while working on the song’s instrumental track. Wolf exudes class while dedicating the final version to Womack in the song’s brief, spoken intro. The jazzy “Tragedy” (not to be confused with a song of the same name that Wolf recorded as a duet with Shelby Lynne on his previous album) has Wolf in torch song mode, another example of the highly adaptable nature of the singer’s seasoned voice.
A Cure for Loneliness may not be Wolf’s best album, but it’s a fine album nonetheless, and perhaps his most easygoing and eclectic one. In 1984, his first solo album, Lights Out, was a heavily processed and keyboard-fueled affair, the sound of a man successfully plugged into the zeitgeist. These days, Wolf doesn’t seem to care what the zeitgeist is all about, and that suits him just fine.