Country music is like that old pair of blue jeans you have in the back of the closet. Even if current trends try to tell you they’re not hip in the here and now, just wait awhile. Time will come back around to them. As some mainstream artists and new up-and-comers try to hitch their wagon to the retrospective popularity of 80’s and 90’s country sounds, guys and gals that were born and raised on the stuff are looking around and saying, “Where y’all been?” And when they strike up and play, they prove they’re old pros at country music that actually sounds country, instead of trying to hitch a ride on a passing train.
It’s been 18 years since this Oklahoma native was transferred from an oil trading desk in Chicago down to Houston, and found himself sharing a room with Hayes Carll, and later at a concert for the legendary country band Alabama, and afterwards picking guitars on a bus with a bunch of musicians and thinking, “Hell, I can probably do this for a living too.”
It’s pretty rare that seven albums and 17 years into a career that an artist finds their stride, but that’s the determination many are coming to with Jon Wolfe’s Dos Corazones, and for fair reasons. Inspired, passionate, well-written, and consistently enjoyable throughout, it feels like one of those career-defining records. Usually when you see an album with 17 tracks, you grimace. It often means someone forgot to trim the fat. But Jon Wolfe’s first album in four years is nearly all muscle, and heart.
Sure, some of the songs are not the headiest of material. And sometimes the beer and whiskey references get you worried it’s veering a little too far into country music cliche. A song like “Tequila Sundown” has probably been done more times than it deserves. But nobody would quibble with your pronouncement that this album is country. In fact you could consider this album whose title translates to “Two Hearts” is like a love letter to the genre, and in more ways than one.
Dos Corazones was mostly written in the Chihuahuan desert on a retreat Wolfe took with his producer Dave Brainard and songwriter Tony Ramey. Sometimes these songwriting soirees sound all poetic and erudite, but still result in the same ol’ raisin bran. But in this case when the results are songs like the Western-infused “Two Hearts in Terlingua,” or later the certified heartbreaker “Anybody Playin’ Sad Songs,” there’s no reason the second guess the recipe.
This isn’t a concept record per se, but there is a bit of a reflective undertone to every song of this Western-flavored country epic—an orange-pink hue to the skyline as the sun sets behind the broken peaks that you can’t help but envision as each song on the album plays. One of the ways they were able to successfully stretch the project to 17 tracks was by picking the pocket of songwriter Josh Thompson, who seems to be contributing to many of the good records in country music these days. Thompson co-wrote “That’s What I’m Doin’,” which is one of the serious shit kickers on the record, as well as “Waitin’ on a Dog to Bark,” which could have turned out trite, but really hits home.
Dos Corazones doesn’t just show respect to country music by honoring the roots with the sounds, approach, and instrumentation. In songs like “Here’s To All My Heroes,” “When The Good Ol’ Boys Age Out,” and “Anybody Playin’ Sad Songs” it speaks to the reverence Jon Wolfe and his songwriters have for the music. “Why Can’t You (Conrad’s Song)” gives the album that touching moment it needed, and the way the release incorporates a visual component by assigning each song its own artwork gives the album a cinematic feel.
Sensible, but still sentimental and deep enough in moments, Dos Corazones is easy to enjoy and hard to deny, and producer Dave Brainard didn’t get lured into trying to make Jon Wolfe into anything but what he is, which is a guy from Oklahoma who just wants to write and play country music the right way. If the radio in Texas plays it, and people show up to hear it, even better.
Dos Corazones is one of those records you hope your favorite artists turn in, as opposed to the album you often get, especially later in their career when the hunger has subsided, and they’ve hit cruise control. Bringing a strong vision to the conception and writing of this album, and then making it come alive in the studio renders Dos Corazones a modern country and Western gem.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)
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