Ciudad Madero, 3 AM. The Córdoba brew smells strong of nuts, caramel, and oak. The coffee pot is an old heirloom from my grandfather, an avid coffee junkie. The vinyl tablecloth tends to stick to you with the late night heat. It’s always warm and muggy here. The ceiling fan is just a fancy dust collector by now, fried to uselessness about five years ago.
The coffee pot shakes. It’s the 3:05 freight train, carrying noxious chemicals back to the Refinery, which sits a good 2 miles from this house. After a few days, the whistle and rumble no long faze you. The old stereo is on and loses signal for a few moments. It’s back on, with the hiss of an AM station from the US playing country standards. Late at night, you can get US AM radio stations here. Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, George Jones. All the classics, all the time, in all its wonderful AM glory. Sometimes you could hear that station during the day, while riding shotgun in a beat-up truck, like the one my aunt used to drive.
Yeah, those were good nights, and I guess it’s the first thing that comes to mind while I listen to Faded Days, Actual Wolf‘s new album. A collection of 10 tracks that marry classic country rock with the Streaming Generation (TM).
‘Smothering Love’ and ‘Kerosene & Spark’ get reworked. The retrofitting of both tracks works in the context of Faded Days, as both songs always seemed familiar to each other. ‘Kerosene & Spark’ gains some pomp, to the cost of rowdiness, still waiting for the ghost of Richard Manuel to drop by for a late night jam session. ‘Smothering Love’ is as slick as Suavecito pomade, with the graciousness of a lap steel adding a joyous layer to the track.
There’s a spiritual feel in some of these tracks. ‘The city is an ocean’ is a revelation, adding a mournful introspection to the album. A lonesome piano and Eric Pollard‘s vocals are all you need as an introduction to what Actual Wolf entails. The moment ‘The city is an ocean’ segue into ‘Be my love (American Hips)’ is perfect: a mixture of 80s electropop married with the riffier moments of My Morning Jacket. ‘Be my love (American Hips)’ should be a single from Faded Days, as it swiftly displays the many faces of Actual Wolf, the ones you could paint in a dodecahedron die and roll around, letting chance choose the musical mood of the day.
You do get a variety of moods in Faded Days. ‘Baby please’ is a honeysuckle sweet ballad. ‘Only man’ goes for the country introspection you deserve to listen while watching the sun set after a hard day. ‘Little Runaway’ is your whiskey-soaked rocker. Put it on a chromium dioxide type 2 tape and blast it on your stereo.
‘Faded days’ carefully sports the reverence that a title track requires. Contemplative and leisurely paced, it’s a saunter through fields of blue-tinged emotions. Perhaps that nostalgic emotion is what lays the ground perfectly from ‘Hometown’, a clear winner in a crowd of great songs. The slow fade-in comes just as powerful as that freight train I babbled about a couple of paragraphs ago. With age comes a moderate amount of wisdom and ‘Hometown’ sure feels like a spoonful of truths.
Faded days, an album for memories that fade and come back again, like a freight train in the night. It took a few tries, but it seems Actual Wolf finally found his howl. All the earlier EPs, demos and albums lead to a killer collection of country rock tunes. It’s been 15 years since I’ve been to Madero. Still, the warm nights of coffee and writing still breathe in my memory. I guess “hometown goes wherever you go“.
Words: Sam J. Valdés López