December Album of the Month
The last Album of the Month review of the year. I’m late out the blocks with this month’s review after our 8th Annual Awards – which eats up weeks of time – but, in time for Christmas, we have something reflective, good for the soul and that inspires hope for a better world in 2023. This is an album I enjoyed on vinyl, and I wrote some thoughts as the music was playing, attempting to capture how the music made me feel.
On reflection it’s an album that needed time to grow. We’re often always on the look-out for instant-impact catchy songs, and sometimes we have to sit back, reset and give new music time to settle. And let’s not forget it was the tortoise not the hare that won the race. The true measure of fine music is not always the first listen but its power to grow and endure – and that’s, ultimately, what creates legacy.
With this fine album, Wolf Moon deliver us one of the album covers of the year! Before one takes the vinyl out the sleeve, this album makes an immediate statement. I remember when the vinyl arrived in the post, the artwork made an instant, striking impression – a stop-the-clocks-and-pay-attention kinda moment. More than a pretty picture, the artistic presentation of an album is becoming a lost art these days – in an age when many live their life to streaming playlists and commoditised tunes that devalue the purpose of an album as a cohesive artistic statement. Wolf Moon somewhat bring that back, strong imagery signposting the music that’s coming and lavish notes inside the gatefold that you can get lost in as the music starts – and somehow that art encourages you to sit still and listen to the album, to give it real time, rather and having it on as background music while you iron your pants or empty the dishwasher. Or whatever people do these days…
As we all come to terms with news of the tragic the loss of Christine McVie – and reflect on her band’s rich and lasting musical legacy – I sense a clear nod to Fleetwood Mac with this Wolf Moon album. The cover reminded me a little of ‘Tango In the Night’ and the opening of track 2 had nod to ‘Big Love.’ But having influences is fine – this album took me back to my record shopping day in Brighton with Kelly and Jamie in those happy pre-Covid days. Like excited children, the pair of them were pulling out the benchmark vinyl albums that framed their own musical journeys – Carole King, Fleetwood Mac, Santana, Prince – and somehow many of these musical colours and textures find their way onto to this fine new album, with subtle nods and references. And I guess that’s the point of evolution in music.
Formerly a band called Lethbridge Owen – with a folky fabric-clad debut album – this new Wolf Moon album represents a clear evolution, yet it is also far more natural and intuitive than its predecessor. The band isn’t trying to be popular here or to neatly fit into a genre or style box: Rather, and quite simply, this music is what it is: It’s confident, it’s organic but it’s also happy to be what it is – and on its own terms. The music is more important than the marketing and it should be enjoyed on its own artistic merit.
The album opener isn’t what some might expect – there’s no crashing drums, soaring solos, charging beats or dramatic overtures. A laid back almost dreamlike start, ‘Variations On A Feeling’ – sets the mood for the album, with the guitar seamlessly acting like the third vocal. A reflective mood fitting from music written during the lockdown era we have all lived through, this is music being the wellbeing tonic that helped get us through. The right opener, it sets the mood on what is to follow.
The opening chords of ‘Tell Me What I Don’t Know’ make me think of Fleetwood Mac, but beyond that the song opens up in its own direction. Kelly makes her first lead vocal contribution on the album here and one is reminded of the rich character of her voice which made the Lethbridge Owen debut album so memorable.
With ‘Frozen Love’ the union of both vocals work well – with good balance and interplay.
Another fine guitar solo rises evocatively at the end of the song. Along with the first track Jimmy’s guitar work is a different level to the Lethbridge Owen album – more direct, freely expressive and uncensored by commercial politeness. The structure of this song reminded me a bit of Toto arrangements.
‘Give My Heart’ is an upbeat radio song, side one of the vinyl finishing with an inspiring toe-tapper. Half way through the album, the track ordering reminds me of the days when great importance was placed on the running order of a vinyl album in curating a musical journey – another lost art since the CD and streaming ages. The last track one Side A is there to make you turn the record over, which is what we do – interest peaking on what’s coming next in part 2.
Side 2 opens on a special note – ‘Love In The Sun’ was the track the band gave us for our run of ‘rockshows for freedom’ back in the Spring, the thing that brought me back to radio after a winter break – and the shared moment when we tried to make sense of the news events unfolding on our TV screens. What followed was a run of five radio shows when musicians from around Europe and UK – including some from Ukraine – joined us to stand for peace and the human values under threat that we so often take for granted. This song is indelibly liked in my mind with these shows – a song for hope and freedom, a song with a spirit as free as a flying dove – taking us from the dark clouds into the sunshine. Who said songs can’t change the world?
‘Just To Hear It Back’ delivers chilled music for the soul. One to enjoy with the lights dimmed and a nice glass of red. Like a stream of consciousness, this one just works – from start to end, it feels like the song is in charge of the musicians – not vice versa
‘Hold On’ is a Kelly song – and my only quibble with this album is it possibly needed two or three songs with Kelly in the vocal driving seat. Her voice is core to the band’s personality, as is Jimmy’s great guitar work.
‘Colours I Dream In’ is a perfect closer’ for the vinyl. A dreamlike quality almost a lullaby before bed, or the end of the album, I took this as a hopeful song, despite the times we have lived through. And here lies an important, all-encompassing point. This is a collection of songs written during the pandemic, the band taking time to stand back on (what was) daily life and to reflect on what is important in life. But that is also wrapped – consciously or not – in the context of Covid and what we were trying to make sense of. What results is an album of colours, of life and soul. An album with an authentic heartbeat of creative expression that reflects a defining moment in time. At a time of darkness, Wolf Moon shine a light on what matters and – from album cover to the recorded songs – this album finishes a troubled year with a sincere message of hope, love and the enduring strength of the human spirit. No better album to take us into Christmas and see us into 2023 – as we all hope for better days ahead.
To order the album, check out the band’s socials and tour dates visit https://www.wolfmoonband.co.uk