Album Review: Jon Wolfe - It All Happened In A Honky Tonk: Deluxe Edition
By: Matt Bjorke
Carving out an identity as a new artist is perhaps the hardest thing they can do. It’s even harder when your voice sounds largely similar to successful or legendary stars. It’s a double edged sword to have an instantly recognizable vocal style because people will be drawn to hear you sing but they may not know it’s actually you singing the songs they hear on the radio; they may think it’s that successful and legendary artist. This is the quandary that newcomer Jon Wolfe finds himself in. After leaving Texas to move to Nashville, the artist scored a record deal with indie label Midas Records Nashville but right before he was set to release his debut single, the label closed-up shop.
After a little more time working in Nashville, Jon Wolfe returned to Texas, built up a fan base and set about finally getting an album out. That album, the fantastic It All Happened In A Honky Tonk showcases a singer/songwriter with a penchant for writing and recording tunes that feel like a good pair of comfortable Wrangler jeans. As mentioned in the first paragraph, Jon Wolfe possesses a voice that easily recalls George Strait, perhaps even more than Easton Corbin does. It’s not just the phrasing in his singing but the way he growls and sings about honky tonks, rodeos and country and ranchin’ life. “Let A Country Boy Love You” shows off all of this stuff as Jon Wolfe sings about an oft-worn story about a girl who left the small town life for the big city lights and yet when she comes back, Wolfe proclaims that he could sweep her off her feet and treat her the way that only ‘a country boy’ can and ‘love you like you deserve.’ Being marketed to Texas and Oklahoma markets instead of a broader national set-up (at least at first), the single stands a fair shot at getting up the Texas Music Charts, something that will likely happen to a majority of the songs on It All Happened In A Honky Tonk.
“I Don’t Dance” is song that turns into an interesting story of a song about a guy who doesn’t want to risk a relationship with a beautiful woman he meets at a dance hall due to the fact that he will be bringing his own past baggage into the encounter, particularly because he’s been there before and how that dance leads to other stuff and broken hearts. It’s an interesting song and one that would certainly fit in mainstream country music radio just as well as any other tunes on the charts, particularly given strong, interesting lyrics and Wolfe’s tasteful delivery (which is backed up by fantastic production that never gets in the way of the lyric). “You Might Have Told Me” is an interesting song about a guy who ends up being a sad sack who didn’t know a relationship has come to an end (or that he conveniently forgot ‘the sad and painful truth’).
Like many ‘tear-in-your-beer’ tales, “Play Something I Can Drink To” Is a fantastically ‘retro’ tune that finds Jon Wolfe asking for stuff to be played on a jukebox that will help him wallow in the fact that he now has an ex-girlfriend. The more ‘contemporary’ sounding “If She’s Looking For Love” finds Jon Wolfe describing a female bar patron who is hoping to ‘find the one who will love her through the years’ but goes on to proclaim ‘she’s in the wrong place, if she’s lookin’ for love.” It’s another strong radio-ready song on a record full of radio ready tunes, like the title track and “The Only Time You Call.” While Jon Wolfe’s latest album is steeped in the kind of neo-classicism that has guided every George Strait record since the mid 1980s, It All Happened in a Honky Tonk is like a fine shot of single malt scotch whiskey. It goes down easy and smooth but the notes of it linger with you long after you’ve finished it.
Added to this recording for the Deluxe edition are three new tracks. "I Can't Take My Eyes Off You," "That's Not Very Texas Of You" and "I'll Take My Chances." What's cool about these songs being added is that they're not placed at the end of the record (just like Tim McGraw's Deluxe edition of the just-released Two Lanes Of Freedom). Instead, Jon, his co-producer Lex Lipsitz and his new label Warner Music Nashville/ILG have decided to give the record an even more cohesive sound than before with "I'll Take My Chances" feeling like it belonged on the original self-released edition of It All Happened In A Honky Tonk. "I Can't Take My Eyes Off You" and "That's Not Very Texas Of You" both were co-written with the late Tim Johnson and serve as two additional showcases for an artist that deserves to be as big a star as the newer wave of Neo-Traditional Country singers like Greg Bates, Easton Corbin and Chris Young.