Jenny Wolfe – After School

January 01, 1970

(SteadyBoy)

 

www.steadyboyrecords.com

 

Exactly two years ago an album by an Austin teen combo called Jenny Wolfe &
the Pack dropped through the mail slot, and to say that I was smitten by the
eponymous platter would be a huge understatement. Although it primarily
comprised ‘60s covers, it had innocence and a purity of intent and vision that
rang utterly true, and I happily sang its praises to anyone who’d listen to me.
In fact, what I wrote about Jenny Wolfe
& the Pack
back then (for BLURT predecessor Harp) seems as good a way as any to set up Wolfe’s new solo outing:

 

 

Once upon a time there
was a girl who dreamed big but felt trapped in an impossibly small world, until
over the radio one afternoon came the Lovin’ Spoonful’s buoyant, timeless “Do
You Believe in Magic?” The song liberated her, and while that girl wasn’t
necessarily Jenny Wolfe, it could have been.
This young Austin
teen, along with her five classmates comprising the Pack, will make a believer
of you when she belts out the Spoonful classic, in a room-filling voice equal
parts Linda Ronstadt and Maria McKee. As mentored and produced by Freddie Krc
(Freddie Steady 5, Roky Erickson & the Explosives), the Pack romps through
a selection of sweet-but-not-saccharine ’60s nuggets-among them, the Yardbirds’
“For Your Love” and Ronstadt’s “Different Drum”-additionally paying tribute to
Erickson with a luminous take on his “Starry Eyes.” Don’t miss, too, Krc’s “In
My Head,” which fairly levitates amid the group’s jangles ‘n’ harmonies. In an
era when 99% of her peers doll up like pole dancers and yammer about playas and
haters, it’s utterly inspiring to hear an artist like Wolfe reclaim passion and
innocence and make ’em fresh. Believe in the magic of a young girl’s soul,
folks-it can set you free.

 

 

Two years on – she’s all of 16 now – and Wolfe’s no longer
in apprentice mode: she commands the listener’s attention even more fully,
bursting with natural charisma and an undeniable star power. This time around,
producer Krc lined up some seasoned veterans to serve as Wolfe’s backing band,
among them fellow Explosive Cam King on guitar, Double Trouble’s Reese Wynans
on keyboards Krc himself holding down drum, percussion and assorted guitar and
keys duties (pedal steel legend BJ Cole guests on one track as well). As
before, the selection of tunes is a mixture of covers and Krc compositions, and
the highlights are as memorable as they come.

 

Chief among them are Big Star’s “Thirteen,” lush with
acoustic guitars, string synth and Cole’s steel, Wolfe caressing the lyrics and
sliding up and down and across syllables so effortlessly you almost peer for an
Auto-Tune credit in the liner notes; and the Chris White-penned “I Love You,”
originally a hit for both the Zombies and the People in the ‘60s, here given an
additional emotional urgency as Wolfe swings between a plea and a declaration
(“and I don’t know what to say!”)

 

Elsewhere, Krc’s “I Wanna See You Cry” shows off Wolfe’s
sassysexycool side amid a riotous Nuggets-style
garage arrangement, while Texas rocker Ron Rogers’ equally Nuggets-worthy powerpop stomper “Tell Me No” finds Wolfe snarling,
snapping, gulping, grunting, howling and hooting like a young Joan Jett. When
you hear the massed band shout of “Hey!” at the end of the next to last chorus
of the latter tune you’ll be pumping your fist in the air and shouting along at
the top of your lungs. For that matter, try resisting the singalong charms of the album’s hands-down left-field cover: the
Jackson 5’s not-bubblegum-but-timeless “I Want You Back,” of which Wolfe
observes, in liner notesman (and BLURT contributor) Jud Cost’s accompanying
article, was a studio endurance test as she and Krc tried to get the complex
arrangements – vocal and instrumental
– perfect.

 

Wolfe herself tries her hand at a pair of original
compositions co-authored with Krc, the twangy, shuffling, Michael Nesmith-like
“After School” that, with its comeuppance lyrical theme (rumor-spreading former
BFFs get their just desserts when the object of their torment writes a song
about ‘em), and the heart-wrenching “Twisted Smile,” awash in Byrdsian jangles,
spooky Farfisa and Wolfe’s yearning, confessional vocal. It would be a mistake
to apply a label like “wise beyond her years” to Wolfe – that’s precisely the
problem with so many of the Disney teenpop puppymill gals these days, that they
have to shoulder adult responsibilities way too early – but it’s hard to ignore
the worldly nuances of her voice even as she’s voicing the concerns of a
teenager.

 

Bottom line: there hasn’t been a set of femme pipes this
memorable to arrive on the indie scene since a 15-year old Rachel Sweet bum-rushed
the Stiff Records roster in 1978. If we have to wait another three decades for
lightning to strike thrice, so be it; we’ll have Wolfe, hopefully enjoying a
long career, to keep us company in the interim. I’ll say it again, with extra
emphasis: believe in the magic of this young girl’s soul, folks – it’ll set you free.

 

Standout Tracks: “Tell
Me No,” “I Love You,” “Twisted Smile” FRED MILLS

 

[Jenny Wolfe will be
performing several times during SXSW; for details go to her MySpace page, www.myspace.com/jennywolfeandthepack
.]

 

 

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