I have a romantic image of the wandering minstrel, who back in the day would explore far and wide, hoping to earn food and a bed for the night by singing a few songs and telling a few tales. These intrepid souls would laugh in the face of smallpox or being dunked in the local duck pond by unenlightened locals. The good-time troubadour lifestyle seems infinitely more exciting than the serf alternative where the biggest pleasure would have probably amounted to an occasional wicked run through a cornfield.
Colchester based folk-punk singer Wolfe Sunday is one of the equivalents of today’s musical journeyman. After a period of homelessness, Wolfe Sunday started touring with his trusty acoustic guitar, slowly building up a following and after “borrowing” the recording facilities of his University for his first sparse demos to sell at gigs, finally got a few spare pounds for the recording studio. The resultant album Empty Bottles, Broken Bones released in 2016 was well received and started Wolfe Sunday on a journey in developing a more rounded studio sound.
It’s fitting that one of the songs from the new Wolfe Sunday album (cunningly entitled Wolfe Sunday, and released on Beth Shalom Records on 14 July) is I’m Still Not A Rockstar, But I Sure Wish I Was. This track goes into some lyrical detail about those early days. It’s one of those songs with a catchy beat, sing-a-long lyrics and with Wolfe Sunday’s strong vocals will rattle pleasantly around in your brain. Song For You is another light and bouncy offering and shouts out thanks to those people who see Wolfe Sunday live. I Spend More Times At Service Stations Than On Stage says more within its title than I could manage in a review.
To me these songs draw out something of a Syd Barrett vibe and in particular Syd’s habit of writing seemingly inconsequential songs about the things around him, and spotting the silly dopy fun in life. Damage Control is a seriously rocking song about a house party which goes out of control while the host is getting drunk, and paranoid about the partying strangers. I guess what makes this track so powerful is that we have all been there.
Wolfe Sunday (his Sunday name is Laurence) describes himself as punk folk although he is also influenced by Americana rock, and his music follows a long line of rebel folkish folk through the ages. Of course, the likes of Pete Seegar, Woody Guthrie and Ewan MacColl told deep stories steeped in the poverty of dustbowl depression hit America, or the shipyards, cotton mills and coalfields of Britain. Wolfe Sunday does a good job of sharing his experiences of Essex and Southern counties gigging, and general life experiences as his hinterland. The anthropologists of a millennium hence will find rich pickings within Wolfe Sunday’s recordings.
There’s certainly an edge to the folk music; and on this recording Wolfe Sunday is joined by a sharp sticksman (Will Cummings) and a much richer sound than a gigging man and acoustic guitar could muster. Mixtape is a harder sound, and the lyrics offer homage to those days when things were shiny and new. Fans of Frank Turner will certainly find Wolfe Sunday comfortable territory, and I really admire Wolfe Sunday’s slightly gruff and deep vocal on this track. There’s a common issue in that the production of newer artists songs are poorly thought through (just because technology can achieve something, it doesn’t mean it has to be used), but here Wolfe Sunday keeps it simple and the results are crisp and sharp.
The Barstool Brawler’s Son is a wry look at over-drinking and Wolfe Sunday’s observations about getting into brawls. Making Memories is another pleasant song about former loves, and again it shows why Wolfe Sunday is a popular live draw – this is pure feel good music with nothing to dislike. For those who prefer a slightly harder edge, I think the slightly unhinged angry urgency of English Water makes it my personal favourite track of the album and puts another angle into the music; it’s kind of like acoustic sensibility Led Zeppelin meets Radiohead and an intense journey overall.
Wolfe Sunday has produced a very solid and listenable album with this their self named 2017 offering. The album is very reflective about time on the road and while it clearly keeps to its roots it has a harder and more polished feel with the addition of drums and electricity. There’s certainly something of a pub-rock vibe, but the folk-punk tag fits it well. If you are after some music distinctly easy on the ear but with bite and observational humour then you could do far worse than look at Wolfe Sunday; as such this album gets a very solid 8/10 from this H2N reviewer.