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Album Review : Big Wolf Band – Live & Howlin’ 

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Review by Taf Rock for MPM

Birmingham based blues/rock band Big Wolf Band have pulled a rabbit out of the hat with LIVE & HOWLIN’ – a live album released earlier this year. 

The album is comprised of tracks from their two studio albums – 2017’s impressive debut A REBEL’S STORY and 2019’s BE FREE album with the addition of 2022 single release Get Out.

Existing fans of the band will see this as an essential purchase whilst it also serves as an ideal introduction to this wonderful band for those unfortunate enough to not have crossed paths with Big Wolf Band in the past. Welcome to the pack newcomers, you’re sure to love what you hear!

Formed in Birmingham in 2014 Big Wolf Band are fronted by vocalist/guitarist extraordinaire Jonathan Earp. Jonathan plays exceptional blues guitar in a style reminiscent of British blues greats Peter Green and Gary Moore to name but two. The multi-talented Earp also writes the bulk of the material for the band preferring to perform his own material onstage without feeling the need to incorporate cover songs into the band’s set.

Joining Earp to complete the Midlands quintet are Mick Jeynes (bass), Justin Johnson (rhythm guitar/backing vocals), Tim Jones (drums) and Robin Fox (keys).

Despite being recorded at various gigs throughout the UK the album still sounds as if you’re at one venue for the entirety of the live set thanks in no small part to the excellent production and mixing talents of Mark Stuart from Birmingham’s M2 studios. It’s the nearest you’re ever going to get to having the band perform in your front room. The album is immaculately recorded and captures the true feeling and energy of a Big Wolf Band gig as if you’re actually there amongst the crowd watching the band up on stage (just as the classic live albums of the past do).

We kick off with Jonathan. ‘It’s been a while’ he chirps in dulcet Brummy tones and it’s straight into ‘HEAVEN’S GOT THE BLUES’ from 2017’s aforementioned debut. A fast paced rocker to get the feet tapping, heads nodding and the hips swaying it’s an ideal way to open a gig and grab the audience’s attention. Displaying the interplay between Fox’ stunning work on the keys and Jonathan’s exhilarating fretwork from the off, a major feature of the Big Wolf sound. 

Two further songs from that outstanding debut follow (DONE WRONG BY YOU and I DON’T LOVE YOU). The former a blues shuffle with further impressive Fox keyboard work which should get the remaining motionless listeners up on their feet dancing. Whilst the latter rocks us back up again with a fast paced rhythm section forming the backbone of this track.

LOOKING IN YOUR EYES follows. The first track to be taken from 2019’s Be Free album. Zoe Green performed lead vocal duties for the entirety of that album so this and the four other tracks on show here from that second album are released for the first time with Jonathan providing vocals creating a slightly different feel and dynamism to the original release. Opening with beautifully sweet guitar work this is some of the finest British blues out there. Close your eyes and let the music take you away as only the best blues does.

Jonathan wants to rock things back up. So we follow with LOVE THAT HURTS from the debut album. And rock it up from the off we do with an intro that could come straight off an AC/DC album. Before the lush sound of those keys enters the fray once again to remind us this is the Big Wolf Band after all. A great singalong song this one with Justin featuring on backing vocals. Over far too soon as we head straight into 2019’s BETTER MAN and WALK IN MY SHOES with barely a pause for breath. 

The masterpiece that is 2017’s IF I EVER LOVED ANOTHER WOMAN follows. A demonstration of Jonathan’s exceptional talents on the guitar. Very Peter Green like at times. The similarity to early Fleetwood Mac with the slow bass/drum rhythm and the searing guitar skills of Jonathan only dispelled by the presence of those exhilarating Fox keyboards. Jonathan’s heartfelt vocal and stunning solo reminding us just how great British blues can be. It doesn’t get much better then this. Breathtaking stuff. So good I find myself applauding from the confines of my living room along with the audience as I’m sure many other listeners will too. This track ended that stunning debut album on a high but we aren’t finished yet as we jump back into the Be Free album for a couple of tracks.

JUST CAN’T FIND YOU eases in with its atmospheric laid back groove. Great bass work from Mick Jeynes forming the backbone of this track, Jonathan pleading as he ‘keeps on searching’ before letting his guitar once again do the talking as only he can. If you’re searching for the UK’s biggest undiscovered talent on the blues circuit you can stop your search right now as you listen to the lead break.

NEVER THAT EASY follows and it’s Robin’s turn to take centre stage with a wondrous display of keyboard skill which continues as ROLLING WITH THUNDER displays the faster paced rockier side of the wolf. 

The newest track on the album follows – 2022’s single release GET OUT (co-written by bassist Mick Jeynes). The band are having a ball now ramping up the energy level, Justin joining in on backing vocals during the chorus. A track that surely even the most reluctant member of the audience finds themselves nodding along and tapping their feet to.

We are rapidly approaching show’s end but there’s still time to fit in 2017’s LOVE ISN’T FREE before we reach the climactic finale.

The tear jerker that is DARKEST OF MY DAYS. Despite the tragedy behind this song it’s still somehow uplifting to hear Jonathan turn the darkest of all days into a stunningly beautiful song. You cannot fail to be moved by this spine-tingling song, we all face dark days at times and can relate to the emotions contained in this work of art (indeed if this song was a portrait it would be hanging up there in the Louvre right next to world famous masterpieces). It demonstrates yet again what an exceptional talent we have in our presence here as Jonathan channels his pain and anguish into positive energy that touches us all. This song deserves to be heard far and wide just as this band should be. The bluest blues, similar at times to that 1994 Alvin Lee/George Harrison composition (one of the finest blues songs in history). It’s no overstatement to rank Jonathan’s talents up there alongside these two giants of British music.

This album is surely the vehicle to transport Big Wolf onto the bigger stage. A unique combination of original heartfelt blues filled with thoughtful lyrics and energetic fast paced rock that takes your breath away with its brilliance. Guaranteed to leave you howling in delight at the end of each repeated play as you witness exhilarating guitar work with uplifting mind blowing solos, and stunning keyboard work throughout the set. A blues album for the modern age, one of the finest live albums I have heard In recent times and I’m not alone in my thinking judging by the plethora of accolades from far and wide. 

Jonathan is one of the finest blues musicians in the UK demonstrated perfectly on this giant of an album. However let’s not forget just as wolves hunt as a pack this is the Big Wolf BAND! It’s the coming together of Jonathan, Robin, Mick, Justin and Tim as a tight cohesive unit that makes the band such a force to be reckoned with. On the back of this release there deserves to be interest from far and wide beyond the confines of our second city.

The wolf pack is growing and it’s on the prowl hunting for new blood. With material like this album I see plenty of willing volunteers joining the pack. Don’t just take my word for it, grab yourself a copy, go and see the band live. The only thing you will regret is not having discovered this band sooner!

Track Listing
1 Heaven’s Got The Blues
2 Done Wrong By You
3 I Don’t Love You
4 Looking In Your Eyes
5 Love That Hurts
6 Better Man
7 Walk In My Shoes
8 If I Ever Loved Another Woman
9 Just Can’t Find You
10 Never That Easy
11 Rolling With Thunder
12 Get Out
13 Love Isn’t Free
14 Darkest Of My Days

Website: https://www.bigwolfband.com/

YouTube: https://youtube.com/@BigWolfBandTV?si=FlgT88zjwVIzSA17

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thebwb?paipv=0&eav=Afb_mIhNPgYjWU-amw43wrbKUES6L9A9DF_BXD_3G0k6M-phHJxgdeJ-UMaunS7TH2o&_rdr

Photography by Stephen Brophy – Tears of Fire Photography 

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