By Roger Sharman
Wednesday 3rd September saw the release of one of the most important releases of the year in my opinion, in the shape of Oklahoma born and bred, Jon Wolfe and his ‘Dos Corazones’ album.
Now, why important I imagine you are saying. Well, it’s important for Jon in the fact that it’s his first full-length release since June 2017’s ‘Any Night in Texas’, and important for everyone else in that it’s one of the finest, if not THE finest, straight up-Country/Honky Tonk album this year in my opinion.
Like many artists in the genre, Jon’s first taste of singing was at church back in home in Oklahoma. During those early days it was Jon’s stepfather, a Bass Player in a local house band, who got Jon into Country music, and he started out listening to the likes of another Okie – Garth Brooks.
Wolfe, must be considered a stalwart of the scene, a career spanning seventeen years and seven albums later certainly means his name has to be put into that bracket in my opinion. He’s also got to be considered something of a legend, certainly in Texas anyway, having racked up thirteen number songs on the Texas Country Music Chart. Not bad for a guy who decided to try his hand at making music on the way home from an Alabama gig. Incidentally Jon used to share a room with Hayes Carll all those years back. Prior to that he was a commodities trader in Chicago. He once told a reporter that “I was the only guy on the trading floor in cowboy boots”. Anyone who knows me personally will confirm that this is something that I can say we have in common, I’m guessing we’ve both worn our hats in the office too, now for a Brit this is a real rarity!
George Strait has always been a major influence on Wolfe, which is obvious even to the most untrained ears in all of Wolfe’s releases and this record is no different in that respect. Indeed, he has opened for legends such as Strait, Merle Haggard, Asleep at the Wheel and Dwight Yoakam, his songs have been recorded by the likes of Joe Nichols. He’s also passionate about 90’s Country and artists like Tracy Lawrence, Clint Black and Mark Chesnutt.
‘Dos Corazones’ whilst for the most part has continued in a similar vein to ‘Any Night in Texas’, which contained the number one Texas Hit ‘Boots on the Dancefloor’. There’s still the velveteen voice, there’s still the Honky Tonk floor fillers, there’s still the Tijuana-tinged tunes we’ve heard before, but that’s no surprise considering ‘Dos Corazones’ was mostly written in the Chihuahuan desert, on a sabbatical Wolfe took with producer Dave Brainard and Co-songwriter Tony Ramey. The songs I’m particularly referring to here are ‘Two Hearts in Terlingua’ and ‘Tequila Sundown’ and the theme-tune like opener ‘La Llegada’ (which literally translates to the arrival).
You’ll hear references to the artists that Jon listened to in his youth, and he doffs his Cowboy hat to his influences on the second track on the Album ‘Here’s to All My Heroes’. The very first line mentions the legendary ‘Red-Headed Stranger’ and the same verse mentions Willie, Hag and Waylon. In fact, you’ll hear references throughout the album to the music that has made Jon the person that he is, and his F-150, and his beat up old 82’ Bronco, Levi’s, so it’s fair to say there’s a lot of nostalgia written into this record, particularly on tracks like ‘Why Can’t You (Conrad’s Song)’. Conrad must have been a very close friend who’s passed away, it’s a fitting tribute to whoever Conrad was, it’s quite stunning, and this line really hits hard with me, a suitably poignant moment.
“It’s crazy that a town that’ll never change, could never been the same without you in it”.
‘Runaway With Me’ is another track with nostalgic references like listening to ‘Born to Run’ in a 70’s Chevvy.
‘Anybody Playing Sad Songs’ laments the lack of decent country music on FM Radio and the lack of the steel guitar and fiddle on such stations, and those elements are critical to a good Country song in my book. Wolfe certainly knows how to make a great sad song, remember the absolute classic ‘Play Me Something I Can Drink To’ from 2013’s ‘It all Happened in A Honky Tonk’.
“Combin’ the Airwaves for an AM Station out of Houston” and “Don’t anybody know what that old steel guitar is for” are added here for reference.
There’s still the love songs, after all ‘Dos Corazones’ literally translates as Two Hearts, which incidentally is the name of the house they stayed at whilst in the desert writing the album. I also think as much being songs about the love of his beautiful wife, Amber, this collection of songs is about his passion for the music, reference ‘A Cowgirl Like You’ which has a lot more traditional sound, than is typical of a Wolfe tune, and similarly ‘I’m Your Man’.
This album goes that bit further than ever before. ‘When the Good Ol’ Boys Age Out’ sees Wolfe go more Outlaw than I can recall him ever doing before, and it certainly suits his incredible baritone voice, and is something I’d like to hear him do more of in the future, it’s an absolute stormer of a track.
The album artwork really captures the spirit of the Album, they shot over 5000 editorial photos and over thirteen hours of video footage whilst out in the desert writing the album.
Of the record Wolfe has said “This project is different from my previous records. Early on it was all about me and the music I created, but this record is all about the team. It’s about Dave Brainard and what he brings to the table as a great producer, Tony Ramey’s amazing song writing talent, Mason Dixon’s vision through film and how Jeremy Thomas brings emotion to life through photography. My wife and partner Amber, and the work that she puts into the team.” The writing skills of Josh Thompson were also engaged for her record.
What else can I say about ‘Dos Corazones’? Plenty actually, but you might get a bit bored with me rambling on about the virtues of it, so I’ll keep it short, I will say that despite what’s come before this is his best work to date, I’ll even be as bold as to say it’s career-defining. I’m in love with it and have been since I heard the early releases on ‘Dos Corazones Chapter One and Chapter Two’, the two EPs released as a precursor to the full album. Weighing in at seventeen tracks and just over an hour in length, your certainly getting full value for money, with quantity as well as quality. I’ve not stopped playing and won’t for a long time if ever!