Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Peter Wolf's 'Cure for Loneliness': Music With An Undercurrent Of Melancholy


This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: Peter Wolf is best known as the lead singer for the J. Geils Band, but he's also had a long solo career. He's been making albums on his own since the mid-1980s. His eighth solo one is called "A Cure For Loneliness," and our rock critic Ken Tucker says it's one of Wolf's most varied collections.


PETER WOLF: (Singing) Out with my freeway friends, running red lights. We went the distance there and those extra miles. We were not money men, but we sure knew how to spend. I miss it now and then. There was fun for a while.

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: The tuneful rasp that is Peter Wolf's singing voice is at once familiar and different on most of the songs he's recorded for "A Cure For Loneliness." It's an album that carries an undercurrent of melancholy of a man now in his early 70s looking back.

But Wolf avoids cheesy nostalgia, turning a sharp eye and a quick mind on himself when he sings a beautiful song he's co-written with Will Jennings called "Peace Of Mind." Its lyric starts out leading you to think its going to be a bitter old man's complaint, but immediately deepens into a much more poignant song of hard-won weariness and doubt.


WOLF: (Singing) Out there in the world can't you feel the change in times? People out there grabbing every nickel, every dime. You and me, tell me, baby, what's it going to be? All I'm trying to find is just a little peace of mind. Now, when I was a young man, I believed in everything. Now I'm not a young man, and I don't know what song to sing.

TUCKER: Wolf dips into his back catalogue a couple of times here. He picks up "Wastin' Time," a song he recorded on his 1996 solo album "Long Line." Back then, it was an acoustic ballad. Now he's turned it into more of a rollicking rock song.


WOLF: (Singing) Come here, baby. I'm going down slow. Coming up with nothing, girl. I got nothing to show. And it feels like I'm wasting my time. Standing at the station...

TUCKER: In an even more surprising rearrangement, Wolf takes one of the hits he co-wrote when he was with the J. Geils Band, "Love Stinks," and gives it a bluegrass treatment. This could have been a corny stunt; instead, Wolf compels you to hear that familiar anthem in a fresh way.


WOLF: (Singing) You love her, and she loves him. And he loves someone else. You just can't win. So it goes to the day you die, this thing they call love is going to make you cry. I had the blues, the reds and the pinks. One thing's for sure, love stinks. Love stinks. Yeah, yeah. Love stinks. Yeah, yeah. Now, two by two...

TUCKER: Both "Wastin' Time" and "Love Stinks" were recorded live in concert, and the rest of the studio album is a mix of R&B, rock and country music. But rather than sound like a hodgepodge of recordings gathered to fill out an album, this mix forms a coherent mood and purpose.

The way I hear it, it's Wolf's version of acknowledging the past without becoming trapped in it. It's also an opportunity for him to explore genres he wasn't able to dive into when he was with the J. Geils Band. Listen to the Peter Wolf version of country music in his cover of "It Was Always So Easy To Find An Unhappy Woman," a song that was a hit for Moe Bandy in 1974.


WOLF: (Singing) I drove to the park and I searched all the bars where I made out with love so many times. It was always so easy to find an unhappy woman 'til I started looking for mine. Now the note on the door...

TUCKER: It's clear that the cure for loneliness spoken of in the title of this album isn't the love of other people, but a love of music. It's music that has never let Peter Wolf down, that has always sustained him over half a century.

On this album, he doesn't claim any great wisdom for knowing that truth about himself, but it does give him some comfort, a comfort he wants to pass on to us.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Yahoo TV. He reviewed Peter Wolf's new album, "A Cure For Loneliness." Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, our guest will be David Duchovny, the co-star of the "X-Files" and "Californication."

He has a new novel about an Ivy League-educated peanut vendor at Yankee Stadium who's trying to write the great American novel. We'll talk with Duchovny about his book and about the X-Files which returned for a limited run earlier this year. I hope you'll join us.


WOLF: Do you want more?


WOLF: All right. Come on. Give me some gubalubaluba (ph) on it, some gubalada (ph). There you go. Yeah, gubalada on it.

GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Ann Marie Baldonado, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, John Sheehan, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden and Thea Chaloner. I'm Terry Gross.


WOLF: (Singing) How do you know which way I swing until you see me at the bat? How do you know I call... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.