Wolf’s latest album is rock ‘n’ roll in its purest form

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It may sound silly today, but eight-track cassettes emancipated teenage hard-rock lovers across the country. You could get out of the house and away from constant admonitions of “Turn that down!” You could get in a car and crank up those tiny speakers to max volume.

“Toys in the Attic” was my first eight-track cassette. I was so cool driving around in my mother’s Ford Maverick. OK, not. I think it was around 1981 when I went to my first concert. You guessed it — Aerosmith. I was so cool amid the sea of flickering lighters. OK, not.

This was during a time when rock lovers around here were grooving to the J. Geils Band and lead singer Peter Wolf’s crazy disc jockey stage rap. I didn’t discover this other Boston-based band until the 1983 “Freeze Frame” album. I was not impressed. I didn’t get blown away by J. Geils Band until a college party where someone played the 1976 live album “Blow Your Face Out.” Now that was cool!

So, of course, I was online as soon as tickets went on sale for this summer’s super-hyped J. Geils Band/Aerosmith concert at Fenway Park. Seats were ridiculous, prices were ridiculous and even photos of Steven Tyler were ridiculous.

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Was it really worth paying anywhere from $100 to $3,000 a ticket to be jostled around in an arena concert among the black concert T-shirt wearers still talking about their eight-track cassettes? Taking a chance on no rain and Steven Tyler staying sober long enough to maintain a vertical position on stage? Not.

Time to move on. I got tickets to see moe. in Hampton Beach, N.H., instead. And I have been driving around in my mini van the past couple of weeks listening to Peter Wolf’s solo album “Midnight Souvenirs,” which was released early this month. True rock ‘n’ roll without the hair spray and spandex. It’s a sound that stays loyal to the R&B and C&W that fuse to make rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a sound from a singer and songwriter who’s kept his edge and contagious energy at age 64, but has wisely abandoned efforts to preserve himself as a 20-year-old rock idol. Wolf’s latest release is even better than the critically acclaimed but commercially unnoticed “Sleepless” album from 2002.

And guess what – Wolf is playing at Port City Music Hall in Portland on May 12. Reserved seats, easy drive home, a venue where you can actually see and hear the performers. You bet I got tickets for that show.

The show is billed as Peter Wolf and “special guest.” No word yet on who that is. Maybe he’ll show up with Shelby Lynne, who adds rich soulful vocals on “Tragedy,” a song that lyrically and musically captures the idea of unrequited love much more maturely than the adolescent 1980 pop hit “Love Stinks.”

Maybe the legendary Merle Haggard will walk onstage to sing “It’s Too Late For Me.” Written by Wolf and Will Jennings, this track sits you down with your eyes closed and your soul swaying. Wolf maintains pure beauty in a duet with Neko Case on “The Green Fields of Summer.”

But before you get the idea that Wolf has plopped into a rocking chair and gets too nostalgic in his old age, remember that he is still Wolfa Goofa Mama Toofa. “Thick as Thieves” picks up the pace with a driving beat and social bite that evokes images of John Lee Hooker and Bob Dylan. Wolf resurrects his Detroit sound with “Everything I Do (Gonna Be Funky), a house party just waiting to happen.

I’m really hoping that the special guest will be Wolf’s co-producer and keyboardist Kenny White. White played a major role in Wolf’s “Sleepless” and “Fool’s Parade,” a definite shift from Wolf’s previous pop candy solo efforts and back to his early musical influences that live on raw and honest blends of lyrics, rhythms and tradition.

By the way, here’s a two-fa for ya – White released another solo album earlier this year on Judy Collin’s Wildflower record label. “Comfort in the Static” takes a jazzier path than his “Symphony in Bars” and is worth checking out.

Wolf and White’s production of “Midnight Souvenir’s” whispers and shouts, rocks and rolls, and makes you want to turn up the speakers. (Not available on eight-track, but still very cool.)

Emily Tuttle is a freelance writer living in Minot.

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