Capturing a Wolf Larsen performance on tape seems like one of those simple yet impossible tasks. On one hand, it’s all already there: the aching clarity of her voice, the spare yet elegant finger-picking on nylon strings. I want for nothing. But how do you convey the breathless hush that falls over a once-raucous barroom, the pristine stillness of the moment?
I guess you don’t. Instead, Wolf and producer Nick Stargu have created a very different sonic experience from her live performances. Rich swells of chamber strings, gently whining electric guitar lines and other ephemera are woven through the songs, but her guitar and voice–that unmistakable voice–are always the centerpiece. This extended palette also reveals a broader range of musical influence: far from just a folksinger, Wolf draws on the jazz, gospel and soul traditions as well. If seeing Wolf Larsen live is scripture, then Quiet At The Kitchen Door is a canon of Renaissance paintings. The beauty and poetry of the stories* is not diminished but transformed as it’s translated into a new media.
Similarly, many of the song-stories on Kitchen seem to be retellings of each other**, like a folk tale that has different endings depending on how far the storyteller has wandered. In one version, the speaker wistfully leaves her lover; in another, she begs the beloved to stay. Our hero longs for companionship; or perhaps he succeeds in resisting its charm. In her first single “If I Be Wrong” Wolf follows in the tradition of Jeannette Winterson’s Written On The Body by defying gender, and in doing so makes the listener question what we think we know about the character or its creator. All we’re left with is the bare essence of the song: a plea, not for love, not for forgiveness, not even for understanding, only for a shared presence.
Quiet At The Kitchen Door sounds terrific, and has remarkable balance. Just when the serenity of long-form songs like “Kitchen Door” and “If I Be Wrong” seems almost too wonderful to bear, there’s the relief of a dainty, playful palette-cleanser like “Maybe, Baby” or a rough-around-the-edges romper like “Wild Things”. My all-time personal favorite is “Jedi”, a lyric of which I once asked Wolf to write on my guitar. A sword inside a song. This is the weapon that Wolf wields, and Quiet At The Kitchen Door is the sound of her running you clean through.
*As an atheist, I shamelessly reserve the right to invoke religious tradition whenever it seems rhetorically poignant.
**This is the part where I begin to wildly conjecture about the meanings of the songs.