Petronius' Last Meal
by Roy Peak
There's a lot of interesting tidbits of information about Mississippi born musician Afton Wolfe from his website, but it's this sentence at the end of his bio that really hits home for me: "By day, Afton goes by his first name, Steven, and practices law in Nashville, and by night he wears a hat and plays music." That's right, the thought that musicians are superheroes. Or at least they should be. By day: Living amongst the mortals. By night: Playing music as gods.
Wolfe got his musical start at an early age before playing in several bands in Mississippi and Nashville, eventually recording the basic tracks for this album in 2008. After what ended up being one delay after another (moving to another state, dealing with school and work, a bout with addiction—you know, typical superhero alter ego stuff) Wolfe was finally ready to release Petronius' Last Meal, his debut album, after many years in and out of the music business.
Wolfe's superpower could be his rough and powerful voice, which can hit a listener like a sonic fist. The distortion in his voice is like humbucking pickups through a cranked up Fender Princeton, it makes one sit up and take notice. Wolfe's voice embodies his songs, emboldens them with strength, but it's the band here that really ties the whole thing up in a bow and makes it work. Acoustic and electric guitars, saxophone, some simple percussion, a smattering of ethereally winsome female harmonies, and you have a set of songs that rock with passion, even on the jazzier on more acoustic ballads.
"Notes Written on Basil" is a dreamy and softly strummed modern blues with perfect, poignant counterpoint female harmonies. "Interrogations" is a character study about a seemingly mismatched but ever curious couple. This one has cool percussion, cooler bass, and coolest horns wrapped around Wolfe's hot Tom Waits-ish vocals. "So Long, Sweet Lime" is another take on jazzy blues—this time a talking blues—mesmerizing and full of so much noir you can practically taste the rainy alleyways and smoky cafes. The best of the bunch here could be "Slingshots" which takes a decidedly jazzier turn but never (thankfully) goes full Steely Dan, opting instead for more of a world jazz meets pop-infected, loop-injected sound. A pleasant musical carnival in which you suddenly find yourself spinning nightmarishly out of control. "I got eyes like gunshot wounds," Wolfe exclaims then howls convincingly into the night before the tune winds down, then he takes off that superhero hat, goes back to his own Fortress of Solitude, and awaits for the signal to be called upon again.
You can order Petronius' Last Meal by Afton Wolfe directly from Twangri-La Records: https://twangrilarecords.com/store#! or find it on the usual digital and streaming sites.
Roy Peak has played electric bass in more bands than he cares to remember for more years than he can remember. He wrote the theme song for the Utica, New York radio show "Hey You Kids, Get Off My Lawn" on WPNR-FM. His solo debut album, All Is Well, has been called "Loud, cacophonous, and beautiful by a truly unique artist." His short fiction has been published in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature and he writes music reviews for the King Tut Vintage Album Museum of Jacksonville.