The Wolfe Brothers have a reputation – a good one. It involves them being a country rock band, and always putting on a great show, and being very, very entertaining. They will put the same amount of energy into three songs at the Peel Street Fanzone as a massive festival show. They’ve been Lee Kernaghan’s touring band for years, as well as playing in the support slot at his shows, so they’ve had lots of opportunities to develop their skills and they’ve taken them. Nothing at all is wrong with what they’ve been doing, so it wouldn’t make sense to change it. More than that, they’d have to be brave to change something their fans love. Yet change it they have.
Country Heart is the Tasmanian band’s fourth studio album, and when I last interviewed guitarist Brodie Rainbird he mentioned that it was going to be very different to the first three. For the first time they had asked popular producer Matt Fell to work on an album with them, and Fell’s direction was not just completely different to what they were used to but they loved it. And that enjoyment of the experience is evident all over this record.
The band have retained the core of what they do very well, which is entertain by playing tightly written songs that are in the country lineage and also drawing on another lineage. That lineage has been rock ‘n’ roll, and there is still a bit of that on Country Heart. But the pop sensibilities they always had – lead singer Nick Wolfe’s voice is very well suited to pop, for one thing – have been allowed to emerge into the sunlight and the result is a whole lot of melody and emotion and sincerity that is hard to access when you have to be rock.
The Wolfes could not have made this album at the start. Their grounding in country rock – all those shows played, all those songs they’ve worked on and chosen carefully with their audience in mind – has brought them a place where they can give their audience not necessarily what they think they want but absolutely what they need. It is time for a bunch of hard-rocking Australian country blokes to, frankly, find those nooks and crannies in their sound and their stories and their playing personalities. To be masculine in a way that is not all hard edges.
Music is an important part of any culture. Australian country music occupies a place where audiences go to for stories and signposts. The Wolfes understand their responsibility to their audience – that much is clear by how they conduct themselves in every part of their work – and they’ve taken that responsibility into their sound as well. That may not have been their intention, but it’s the result. No doubt they have created this music because they wanted to, because they love it, because it’s what speaks to them and of them right now. But because of the relationship they have cultivated with their audience, they are better suited than most to shift and change with what their audience needs. The audience nourishes them, and they return the favour. This is exciting stuff from a band who have never been short on excitement, and it’s also worthy of serious consideration.
Country Heart is out now through Universal Music Australia.