When the question of the best band ever is debated the answer is a fairly easy one. In no particular order, depending on your rock sensibilities, the answer is:
When the same question is asked about American Bands the answer is not so simple. Certainly The Beach Boys, a band that has featured Glen Campbell and John Stamos in various incarnations, can’t be in consideration. Is it The Eagles? If so which era? To my mind a band that adds a superstar the likes of Joe Walsh needs to be considered as two separate bands. Taking the Pre and Post “Walshian” eras as separate entities, The Eagles fail the longevity test and can’t be included in the discussion.
Since The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Double Trouble were more star-centric entities than true bands they are discarded from the mix. I hate jam bands so The Grateful Dead is out. Jefferson Starship is lame, with “We Built This City” generally considered one of the worst songs of all time, so Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane also go to the back of the line.
The Doors weren’t around long enough, and if they were truly a great band they would have continued with a new lead singer. Where was Sammy Hagar when we needed him? So we are left with Creedence Clearwater Revival or Aerosmith, or………wait for it……….The J. Geils Band.
Let’s examine their credentials for the greatest American Band:
- Longevity, in their prime they were active for 18 tears, reformed, and are active today in 2011.
- They have band members with cool stage names, harmonica player, Richard Salwitz (Magic Dick), bassist Danny Klein (Dr. Funk).
- They have plenty of hits including “Give It To Me”, “Centerfold”, and “Must Have Got Lost”.
- The song “Ain’t Nothing But A House Party” has one of the greatest opening riffs in rock.
- “Full House Live” is one of the best live rock albums ever. From the first song, “First I Look at the Purse”, to the last, “Looking For A Love”, it is a non- stop party Spicoli would be proud of.
- They have a dynamic, bombastic front man that could be the Demon- Seed of Mick Jagger and Steven Tyler.
The “Demon-Seed” in question is Peter Wolf, the unquestioned leader and creative head honcho of the band. In 1983 seeking to shed his wild man persona, and to explore his darker more bluesy side, Peter left the house party band to strike out on his own. His first few albums were solid affairs with less than solid record sales. The fans were looking for the whirling dervish that was Peter Wolf, and were getting more of a Van Morrison performance, with an emphasis on strong, clear vocals, strong musicianship, and a few tender ballads, he was doing it his way. Check out his first two solo albums “Up To No Good” and “Long Line” they are fine albums.
With his fifth solo album “Midnight Souvenirs” Peter Wolf seems to have hit his artistic stride in fine fashion. His formula of using guest vocalists on several of the songs on the album is far from unique and has been very successful for everyone from Ray Charles to John Fogerty. What sets this album apart is his choice of duet partners. The hipness quotient is high with contributions from Shelby Lynne, the sexy and sultry Neko Case, and “Mighty” Merle Haggard.
The album opens with the great Shelby Lynne opener, “Tragedy”. An acoustic number where the chorus trading between the 60 something Wolf and the 30 something Lynne comes across as sweet, not mushy or creepy like the duet of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” by Willie Nelson and Norah Jones. The song ends with a nice trumpet, and some good acoustic guitar work.
The pace picks up a bit with “I Don’t Wanna Know” that has kind of a “Love Stinks” vibe to it about a love gone wrong. There is a nod to J. Geils with some fine harmonica work and ringing guitar.
The third song on the album is the best “non-duet” song on the album and delivers the strongest vocal performance. “Watch Her Move” could be a lame “check out the chick” type of song but turns out to be an ode to womankind, and really shows Wolf’s sensitive and sultry side. The back to back to back to back strong efforts show that a lot of time was spent on the feel, the flow, and the pacing of the album.
Wolf slows his roll substantially on “There’s Still Time”, kind of a retrospective type of song, where you get the sense he is in a good place, there is more to come, and he wants to share his good fortune with the rest of us.
“The Green Fields of Summer” is a duet with Indy-Rock Chanteuse Neko Case and represents the strongest collaboration on the album. Her vocals are strong almost overpowering Wolf’s more restrained delivery, over a bed of strings that make this a beautiful song.
“Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky” is a little song with some scat singing, funky bass, wicked organ playing, and slippery harmonica riffs. This song would fit well in Tipitina’s.
“The Night Comes Down (For Willy DeVille) is an excellent homage to Wolfs close friend and musical compadre, Willy Deville. The lyrics “I pour the wine, I write the lines, to bring you back to me” tell you all you need to know about how much he misses his friend that passed away in 2010. Warning, don’t listen to the rest of the lyrics too closely. They will make you cry.
The album ends on a slower note with the Merle Haggard duet, “It’s Too Late For Me”. The voices complement each other perfectly with Merle’s whiskey-soaked baritone and Peter Wolf’s sultry delivery ending the proceedings with such softness that you are left wanting more.
This album is good from start to finish. The production value is great, the songs flow perfectly in style, contrast, and tempo, and despite the conspicuous absence of Bruce Springsteen, the collaborations are fresh and unique. J. Geils fans will be a little baffled at first but will soon jump on the new and improved Peter Wolf Band wagon.
And as far as the Greatest American Band Goes? Of course, everybody knows, it is “The Flaming Groovies”.
– Walt Falconer
- “Tragedy” (with Shelby Lynne)
- “I Don’t Wanna Know”
- “Watch Her Move”
- “There’s Still Time”
- “Lying Low”
- “The Green Fields Of Summer” (with Neko Case)
- “Thick As Thieves”
- “Always Asking For You”
- “Then It Leaves Us All Behind”
- “Overnight Lows”
- “Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky”
- “Don’t Try And Change Her”
- “The Night Comes Down (For Willy DeVille)”
- “It’s Too Late For Me” (with Merle Haggard)
- Marty Ballou Bass (Upright)
- Kevin Barry Guitar, Lap Steel Guitar
- Paul Bryan Bass
- Larry Campbell Fiddle, Guitar, Mandolin, Pedal Steel
- Chris Cardona Violin
- Neko Case Duet
- Crispin Cioe Sax (Alto)
- Kris Delmhorst Vocal Harmony
- Jonathan Dinklage Violin
- Ada Dyer Vocals (Background)
- Babi Floyd Vocals (Background)
- Merle Haggard Duet
- Mike Harvey Vocals (Background)
- Arno Hecht Sax (Tenor)
- Will Jennings Composer
- Duke Levine Banjo, Guitar, Mandola, Mandolin
- Shelby Lynne Duet
- Anik Oulianine Cello
- Shawn Pelton Drums
- Charlton Pettus Engineer
- Marty Richards Drums
- Catherine Russell Vocals (Background)
- Antoine Silverman String Arrangements, Violin
- Entcho Todorov Violin
- Kenny White Bass, Conga, Guitar, Keyboards, Piano, Producer, Vocals (Background)
- James “D-Train” Williams Vocals (Background)
- Peter Wolf Harmonica, Vocals
- Anja Wood Cello