Although no stranger to performing and recording Afton Wolfe, will shortly release his first solo album (he did release an EP in 2020 called Petronius’ Last Meal.) The album is Kings For Sale and supplies a mix of his various band endeavours; this incorporated rock (The Relief Effort, who released two albums), pop (Red Velvet Couch) and what I think I would call experimental rocky prog (Dollar Book Floyd)…add in his Mississippi roots and we can expect jazz, zydeco, creole, gospel music atop his blues/country/rock influences. Now that’s what I call a mix!
The inevitable question is: with a significant cast of talented musicians, does it work?
Well that’s very easy…yes! Even the jazzy melange of opener Paper Piano captures the attention as Afton’s gritty vocals tells the story with wit and pathos as the whole thing draws you in. OK, it may not be normal fare for a blues freak, but it is still well worth a listen: especially for the definitive ‘walking bass’ behind the cultured piano. Carpenter ticks the country, slightly blues box with the rhythms and pedal steel as we hear about his time as a bartender between stints as a musician but it is the percussion that is the star as its obscure time patterns somehow just fit.
Dirty Girl has a spoken intro that isn’t all that clear…irrelevant as harp and slide guitar bring us to an equally dirty vocal: its complex instrumentation is a delight as you hear different things each time…harp, sax, snare, trumpet, bass all add something…needless to say that, for me, the slide has the best bits.
About My Falling is back to Afton’s bartender days as we get a slow, meaningful song that also has a wonderfully clever and involving lyric that is worth listening closely to. It defies genre; just enjoy the languid piano and brushed drums and prop that bar up along with Afton. Cemetery Blues was written by bartender extraordinaire and rock musician Billy Wayne Goodwin Jr. who died, aged 38, in 2017. It only existed as a demo but Afton resurrected it and uses BW’s counting in. It’s certainly blues-rock with the odd psychedelic excursion and has a captivating yet simple riff played with the distortion the old demo probably had. It does lighten a little with a slight hitch in tempo: it’s not an immediate song but, a few listens later, and I love the whole thing…if only the psyche guitar had been given room for a proper wing out rather than just the echoplex bit at the end.
Mrs Ernst’s Piano was written by one half of Truckstop Honeymoon, Mike West; a band with a knack of storytelling in a happy blend of bluegrass, jazz and rock ’n’ roll. The story is about segregation and a piano teacher…it is irresistible over the light jazzy feel of the piano and Afton’s vocal interpretation.
Next up is a song by a friend of Afton’s and includes real sounds of nature as the piano is backed by a bowed upright bass and more subtle and atmospheric pedal steel; Fault Lines may seem dour but the lyrics have a definite message of worth. Steel Wires has plucked that nearly sound like a banjo to great effect and, over some very impassioned vocals, there is plenty to listen to as clarinet, flute and sax join in and make for it truly enthralling if challenging.
O’ Magnolia was inspired, apparently, by the November 2020 vote in Mississippi to change the state flag, removing the Confederate flag to be replaced by Southern Magnolia – Mississippi’s state flower…now you know! It’s a gospel flavoured song that starts a little like ‘Old Man River’ and has some lovely slide guitar to revel in. Like many of Afton’s songs, is not immediate but repeated listens reveal a depth and skill that, despite the ‘not a lot of blues’ it is an arresting and enjoyable listen.
Bluesdoodles rating: 3 Doodle Paws – a Great Listen and a rewarding one that has multiple layers that only repeated listens will reveal. With so many diverse influences it should appeal to many.
Paper Piano (A. Lott, S.A. Wolfe)
Carpenter (S.A. Wolfe)
Dirty Girl (S.A. Wolfe)
About My Falling (S.A. Wolfe)
Cemetery Blues (B.W. Goodwin Jr.)
Mrs Ernst’s Piano (M.J. West)
Fault Lines (E. Puckett)
Steel Wires (A. Lott, S.A. Wolfe)
O’ Magnolia (S.A. Wolfe)
Afton Wolfe – guitar, ukulele, xylophone, vocals
Mike Stokes – bass
Tommy Stangroom – drums
Ben Babylon – piano, keys
Seth Fox – saxophone, clarinet, flute
Joey Dykes – trombone
Blaise Hearn – trumpet
Patricia Billings – vocals
Daniel Seymour – bass
Laura Rabell – vocals
Rebecca Weiner Tompkins – violin
Kristen Englenz – French horn
Adam “Ditch” Kurtz – pedal steel guitar
Wess Floyd – guitar
Cary Hudson – harmonica, guitar
Produced by Oz Fritz
(iTunes decided to regale me with a 2003 release that I forgot about! Called “Days of Rising Doom: A Metal Opera” by an artist known as Aina. It’s author, Sascha Paeth, recruited numerous distinguished singers and instrumentalists to tell a story of a fictional country called Aina…Glenn Hughes, Amanda Somerville, Sass Jordan to name a few. Overblown, bordering on ludicrous but somehow it works.)