Afton Wolfe – Petronius’ Last Meal – Review

Afton WolfeNashville-based singer/songwriter Afton Wolfe has returned with his first solo record. Born in Mississippi, the gravelly-voiced Wolfe performed with a plethora of acts before offering up Petronius’ Last Meal. A collection of recordings rediscovered, the album is a piece of the past filtered through the lens of the present day.

Afton Wolfe – Petronius’ Last Meal

The album opener, “Notes Written On Basil”, begins with wistful acoustic guitar chords, joined momentarily by a haunting melody, likely played on some kind of Middle Eastern horn instrument like a Zurna or a Duduk. Wolfe’s raspy voice joins the troupe, exuding the presence of a stately balladeer. The years of living are evident in his delivery, but so is a sanguinity that can only come from surviving adversity. He is accompanied shortly by a lovely female voice, the two intertwining and playing off of each other dreamily as the guitar strums its slow dirge. Electric guitar also peppers in melodic components, helping grow and expand the arrangement as the song marches forward. The female vocals, sax, and electric guitar continue to swirl around each other, supported by acoustic guitar, as Wolfe chants the mantra “this is it” while the music fades away.

“Interrogations” picks up the tempo a bit, incorporating the previously utilized instruments/voices, plus percussion, with the electric guitar playing a more prominent supporting role. The listener can’t help but envision the music snaking its way out of some dim café in New Orleans, the multi-cultural influences blending to create something familiar yet unique. The song chugs along to the end, vamping through the chord cycle and allowing the melodic instruments room to meander.

The lead single, “Slingshots”, grows the instrument count and increases the tempo even further; creating a raucous ramble over which Wolfe can relay his message. The intro takes its time building, the female vocals repeating a stepwise mantric melody while the horn wails away. When Wolfe’s voice enters the arrangement solidifies, with the form cycling through two verses and two choruses before arriving at another instrumental solo. Wolfe makes smart writing decisions regarding the chorus as he keeps the melody the same but changes the “words” he is using, words being put in quotations because the first chorus is simply “for you-ooh” and the second is only “oohs”. This is smart because he demonstrates his vocal range by climbing up quite high in the melody, and so keeping the words simple and mostly using vowels helps keep the focus where it should be, which is on the melody. After a turbulent horn solo the chorus “oohs” return, falling away to a sparse third verse. The song builds back up one more time, climaxing in an especially emotional chorus, with Wolfe pushing his voice to the brink until the instruments end in a crash.

“So Long, Sweet Lime” closes out the emotional journey of Petronius’ Last Meal. Some of the New Orleans vibe is back; the harmonic structure and guitar fills evoking the enigmatic corners of the French Quarter. The song does not so much reach climatic end as it churns along until it runs out of steam, perhaps the metaphor Wolfe was intending for the end of a record that is clearly meant to mimic the ebb & flow of life. Perhaps the ending isn’t necessarily a grand spectacle, but we simply find ourselves there once we’re too tired to continue.

Afton Wolfe has certainly returned in style; not a flashy, showy style, but rather the style that comes from weathering your years and continuing to look forward. Petronius’ Last Meal communicates that style fantastically, and in these troubled times, we could all use a bit of the greater picture provided by this veteran troubadour.

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