It is safe to say that the musical journey of Ri Wolf has not been easy. He’s had his ups and downs. Part of it included a hiatus, but his return saw him create some of his best work with his Strawberry Fields EP. While listening to his tracks, you can understand how his heroes (including Amos Lee, Chris Stapleton and Ray LaMontagne) have helped shape his songwriting. Each song feels grounded and honest, with a delivery that mirrors this trait. He is a captivating storyteller that is not afraid to mix up his sound as his music ranges from country, soul, blues and rock.
When COVID brought the world to a halt, he decided to begin work on his debut album ‘Elemental‘. It promises to deliver more of his mesmerising storytelling with a varied soundtrack. To add more depth to this release, he has enlisted the help of some talented musicians. These include backing vocals by Carmen Bruno (from the Americana band Trailerhawk), Bryan Daste (pedal steel guitar), blues guitarist Justin Johnson, and fiddle player Kyleen King. Also, a collaboration with singer-songwriter Sophie Dorsten. It has all the ingredients to be something special.
As ‘Elemental’ begins, Wolf opens up with a gentle blend of country and Americana for “Two Wild Horses”. He joins in to share his story with a tone that matches the mood. He does so with, “An untamed heart in a Texas town / They’ll never break you in, they’ll never break you down / You want to feel the wind and let your spirit free / Come run with me, come run with me”. The song flows along at its own pace. Even when the chorus arrives, it changes pace a little to help deliver, “For two wild horses runnin’ / For two wild horses runnin”. It is a great selection to start the album, and he offers an acoustic version towards the final part of the album. Personally, it sounds even better as the stripped-back vibe adds more charm and warmth to his tale.
Following on come two tracks that highlight some beautiful vocals and lyrics. “Queen of Canadian County” has a slower pace to let the listener pay more attention to his story. It is about taking a chance on someone you think may be out of your league. Following on comes “Hurricane (featuring Carmen Bruno on vocals)”, with its subtle toe-tapping groove. The duo intertwine their voices with stunning effect. The song gets even better as the chorus arrives with, “You came in like a hurricane / Swept me up in your wind and rain / Since you came in I ain’t been the same / Here and gone, but I’ll remember your name Little hurricane / Little hurricane”.
“Blood Red River” delivers something different by bringing a bluesy tone (thanks to some sublime guitar work by Justin Johnson). It may be a change, but it suits him. He shows how his vocal and storytelling qualities can effortlessly adapt to this new musical landscape. As highlighted from the opening lines, “I’ve got that blood-red river / Running through my veins / I’ve got that blood-red river / Running through my veins / It started up near Texarkana / On the back porch in the pouring rain”. All these elements combine to grab your attention from the start and don’t let go until its end.
‘Elemental’ is the long-awaited debut album by Ri Wolf, let’s just say, it was definitely worth the wait
Wolf’s storytelling qualities shine yet again with “Annabelle”. He also creates the infectious lines, “I don’t need to love nobody, but you / So tell me, Annabelle, what should we do”, that you can’t help but sing along. “Another Weary Soul” offers a tale about people who live in challenging dry and arid climates in America. Wolf says, “It can be a very challenging way of life. Many lives are lost every year due to these extreme conditions. Firefighters can spend weeks trying to save property, animals and people”. Details reflected in his words, “Wells are dry, Fields on fire / Cant even go to seed / Lord if your not gonna give us rain / Pour your mercy down on me”.
The next batch of songs continues the trend of his excellent storytelling qualities but all with a mixture of sounds. “Until The Stars Are Gone” offers more of his delicate country tone, while “Long Black Train” brings back Justin Johnson’s guitar for more blues goodness. He then adds some toe-tapping grooves for “Beautiful Thing” and “Hallelu”. The latter features some of the best lines from the album, “If you wanna get to heaven I wouldn’t follow me / Because I believe in what I love and I love what I believe / So if you want to save my soul, come have a drink with me / We’ll throw em back and let tomorrow be”.
Wolf seems to transition from country, Americana, to blues in such an effortless manner. Personally, he is at his best when he hits his bluesy groove. His tone feels like he is having so much fun, as “Hard Times Are Comin” can testify. His vocals strut around to the combination of guitar and harmonica. The three elements intertwine to create another standout moment from the album. It’s not huge in its delivery, but it has an irresistible charm. Especially as he shares the lines, “Hard times are comin’, boy can’t you see?”.
The final part of the album has some beautiful vocals by Sophie Dorsten, who combines with Wolf for “Desert Marigold”. Following is the acoustic version of “Two Wild Horses”, as mentioned earlier. Bringing ‘Elemental‘ to a close is “Moving Mountains”, a tale written as a message to his children. He says, “It’s basically a reminder that no matter where they are in life, their mom and dad are always with them and will always be proud of their efforts. I just felt it was important to have this song for my children as they were growing up”. Another reminder that Ri Wolf writes with his heart on his sleeve. It is just one of the many reasons why ‘Elemental‘ deserves your listening time. Why not give it a listen today? You will not be disappointed.