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CD Reviews:  Peter Wolf: Sleepless

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So what do Carlos Santana, Willie Nelson and Peter Wolf all have in common? Each has succeeded recently with a grandiose, super-produced, solo album of mega star collaborations that has returned legendary rock (and, in Willie's case, country) heroes from the land of the forgotten. Santana's 1999 blockbuster Supernatural, which featured tag teams with Rob Thomas, Dave Matthews and Everlast, quickly became the best-selling commercial project in his renowned career and earned him a Grammy or two. Earlier this year, Nelson returned to the popular forefront with The Great Divide, a comparable who's who of partnering magic including duets with Sheryl Crow, Lee Ann Womack and Kid Rock. Not to be outdone, though not as extensive in sheer number of guests, the J. Geils Band frontman brings the wood in this triumphant return, Sleepless, some 20 years after his Centerfold glory days and nearly five years since his last solo effort.

Down but never out, Wolf has remained fairly active in solo and various co-writing and producing roles since he and his former mates ruled the Billboard charts in the early 1980s. Sleepless is actually his sixth solo album, and from what I've heard it stands as his most accomplished. Certainly it never hurts to enlist the marketable firepower of the Rolling Stones (Mick and Keith separately here) and when you're trying to pull off a gritty sounding rockabilly-blues record, don't be afraid to embrace a few cover tunes.

A lazy mandolin ushers in "Growin' Pain," a non-threatening sleeper of an opening track. Without a hitch, however, the immediate appeal of "Nothing But the Wheel" takes hold, featuring a rollicking vocal by Mick Jagger. According to Wolf's liner notes, this one could have been discovered on the cutting room floor of Exile on Main Street. I agree. The full brass horn section that drives "Never Like This Before" harkens a Memphis flavor and manages to keep the Sleepless mood jumping.

There are some sluggish flashes along this decent effort. A reworked "Run Silent, Run Deep" resurfaces from an earlier solo release with no greater punch. "Hey Jordan" will make you want to put that giant white pillow on the front cover to use, and "Oh Marianne" never really gets started. But the good outweighs the bad and two later duets with Keith Richards ("Too Close Together") and Steve Earle ("Some Things You Don't Want to Know") go a long way to save the day. "Too Close Together" opens with Wolf declaring, "Alright, this is a story about being double-parked on the highway of love," and features a dazzling roadhouse guitar in the able hands of Richards.

Peter Wolf might have borrowed from Santana's mold in gathering his musical allies and putting them to work on Sleepless, but the finished album is ultimately signed in his handwriting. He has always favored the bluesy edges of rock and roll but, to his credit, has never traded those tastes for more profitable results. Wolf is true in his classic rock fervor and this new collection of songs does his status well. 

~Red Rocker

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