CD Review of Long Line by Peter Wolf

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Long Line
starstarstarno starno star Label: Reprise/American Beat
Released: 1996/2007
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The ‘80s were not a good time to be a blues singer, particularly a white blues singer with a face only a mother could love, which is why it’s possible (nay, desirable) to forgive ex-J. Geils Band frontman Peter Wolf for the solo albums he made during the decade following his departure from the band. Granted, it’s difficult to accept the steep drop from Wolf’s early work with the Geils crew (or hell, even “Centerfold”) to stupid dreck like “Lights Out” and “Come as You Are,” but you don’t start a solo career to make songs that won’t get played on the radio, and he had to get in where he fit in.

The mid ‘90s, of course, didn’t present Wolf with a marketplace that was appreciably friendlier to someone with his abilities, but at least you could cut a rock record without having to butter it with synths, meaning that even though 1996’s Long Line wasn’t a hit, it’s a marked improvement over his earlier solo work. (The less said about 1990’s Up to No Good! the better.)

Happily, Wolf took advantage of the change in musical climate; although it’s typically uneven, Long Line features some of his strongest material, including the charging leadoff track “Long Line” and the ballad “Goodbye (Is All I’ll Send Her).” This is partly due to the involvement of a few ringers – Aimee Mann pops up as a co-writer on two songs, including the mid-tempo groove “Forty to One,” and Brad Delp contributes backing vocals – but it’s Wolf’s name on the cover, and the record wouldn’t succeed as often as it does if he didn’t sound so relaxed and energized.

He also sounds grown up, which is a quality that had been sorely absent from most of his earlier albums. The “havin’ a house party” shtick had worn thin before Wolf left the Geils Band, and had grown ever more threadbare in the intervening years, so it’s a treat hearing Wolf act his age on self-penned tracks like “Wastin’ Time” and “Two Loves.” None of the songs feature particularly scintillating lyrics (even – surprise! – the two Mann co-writes), but nobody ever accused Wolf of being a poet; you buy his records to hear that howl, and it’s in fine force here.

~Jeff Giles