The Wolfe Gang - Read The Fine Print
Transplanted to Wilmington, North Carolina, singer/guitarist Michael Wolfe has been playing in various bands for decades, absorbing the blues and funk of his native Mississippi, zydeco and other new Orleans sounds, and straight on bar-band rock. His new trio, The Wolfe Gang, explores many styles on their new "Read The Fine Print," and for the most part, the rock straight and true, even on a surprising bob Marley cover.
While some of the record has that White, Lite generic blues feel, Wolfe's guitar licks, Jon Tucker's sax and solid female backup singers usually save the day. The title track is the best track, utilizing all three of those saving graces with gentle but sincere grooves. "Get on Home to You" is a slow soul ballad that features great use of Wolfe's limited grizzled vocals to moving effect. Likewise, "Another Sunday Morning" has a melody suited to Wolfe's range, and clearly the band shows its depth of the slower tunes. Other, more up-tempo songs like "Everyone," "Overcoat Blues" and Merle Haggard's "Shade Tree Fix-it Man" are pretty tepid, generic blues that might sound great after four beers, but not after two. "Irish Dream Song" and "BonTemps Roulet," respectively, prove that Wolfe Gang are much better at Irish folk than at zydeco.
Of the other covers, Mose Allison's "I'm Not Talkin'" works best, as it fits Wolfe's range. Attempts at Marley's Three Little Birds" and "Mack the Knife" are either courageous or cringe-worthy, depending on your taste/sobriety level. The arrangement of "Mack" is interesting, recalling a low Waits/Cohen melody, though it ultimately doesn't ring true. Neither does the band make "Birds" their own; the band may know how to sway and boogie, but throwing down some reggae grooves seem to escape them.
The Wolfe Gang have plenty of chops and certainly a commendable eclectic taste in styles. As "Read The Fine Print" shows, however, the band are more comfortable delivering some styles more than others. this is good bar band music, from a band that aspires to be more than that, and sometimes is.
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