Funny thing about music, you can play the oldest of formulas, pay tribute to great writers and players and still sound vibrant and new.
Take Delaware Crossing, the latest CD from the band Wolfe. The group is fronted by Todd Wolfe on vocals and guitars. If the name is familiar to you, it’s undoubtedly from his association with Sheryl Crow in her early years. He’s become an incredible blues guitarist and songwriter since those days and his band’s latest CD will be a welcome surprise for those of you who think that no one puts out a good old rocking blues record anymore.
Listening to Delaware Crossing like visiting an old friend you’ve not seen in ages. From the riveting drumming provided by David Hollingsworth that kicks off the opening song, Stranger Blues, to the frenetic interplay between Wolfe’s wah-wah guitar and guest John Popper’s trademark harmonica that closes the song, you feel like you’ve put on a record that you’ve had for thirty years.
Todd fits the role of Everyman very well. His vocals can remind you of a young Eric Clapton or a Jack Bruce but the more you listen to each song the more you realize it’s simply a “voice of the people” – naturally strong, emotional and earnest without any of the affectations that plague many a blues singer. His guitar playing, whether wailing away on an extended blues solo (as in the song Love Gone Bad), exploring the subtle nuances of tone and style (on the wonderful (and live!) Wolfe Jam) or adding tasteful fills on the resonator guitar (No Returns and No Exchanges), is superb. He masterfully matches the mood of each song, making a honky tonk piece such as Tumblin’ Down (a song with another guest appearance from Blues Traveller’s John Popper) seem like a long lost song from the Rolling Stones while creating a very Allman Brothers groove on others, like the solo over the end of See What Love Can Do.
The rest of Wolfe support Todd’s writing and playing with incredible style and finesse. On a song like One Lost Love, a soulful ballad that finds Todd playing lap steel and mandolin in addition to the acoustic, electric and resonator guitars, Chuck Hearn’s bass playing, in tandem with Hollingsworth’s drumming and John Cree’s percussion, holds everything together so that you can enjoy all of the song’s textures. Karl Frick provides piano and organ accompaniment that compliments and enriches the guitar without ever seeming to get in the way. I can tell you from experience that that’s not an easy task for any keyboard player!
Delaware Crossing contains moments of surprise as well as wonder. After hearing the first half of the CD, you would never expect to hear such an eerie and downright spooky number such as Black Hearted Woman. Getting an extended moody solo at the end of this song makes it a further delight to the listener.
If you get the chance to hear Wolfe play live, by all means do so! Until you have that chance, treat yourself to their latest CD. And play it for your friends. They’ll think they’ve heard it before and you’ll have a great time while they guess who it is!