Highway Wolf’s Purdie’s Dream is the debut EP from Mick Hellman’s collective project incorporating members of his family and a small coterie of the Bay Area’s finest roots-oriented musicians. The five track release includes covers from Fleetwood Mac, Cat Stevens, Joe Walsh, and Steve Winwood organized around emotional themes, rather than a linear story, that reflects thoughts close to Hellman’s heart. He has not picked the most obvious covers either, a reflection of his deep knowledge of the past, but he nonetheless shows zero interest in Memorex versions of the originals.
You’ve never heard “Back in the High Life” like this. Hellman strips away the shiny Eighties sound of Steve Winwood’s original in favor of a thoroughly Americana restatement of the pop classic. You can do anything you like with truly great songs, and they’ll never lose their inherent character. Other notable artists such as Warren Zevon have taken a stab at Winwood’s classic and discovered their own particular angle on the tune and Hellman carries that on with a traditionalist’s vision of the song’s potential.
“In the City” is a real surprise. Highway Wolf tears down Joe Walsh’s guitar-driven rock original and reconstructs it as a saucy almost New Orleans flavored riff on a venerable chestnut. Everything about this works while still remaining faithful, in important ways, to Walsh’s original. Backing vocals are a key part of Purdie’s Dream that all too few listeners will notice, but take them away, and you’d leave lesser performances in their wake. “Father and Son” finds considerable nuance in rebuilding Cat Stevens’ original version from a different folky singer/songwriter sort of angle. The instrumental performances are the crux of its achievement alongside arguably Hellman’s richest and most fully realized vocal.
“Blue Letter” is entirely different. A cover of perhaps a lesser known Fleetwood Mac gem, it does an exceptional job of blazing its own trail while remaining surprisingly close to the impetus behind Mac’s original version. Hellman won’t allow listeners to pigeonhole Highway Wolf as an exclusively Americana-themed act and “Blue Letter” puts a bold exclamation point on that resolve.
The finale “Silver Springs”, another Mac cover, ends Purdie’s Dream in familiar territory. Highway Wolf turns their focus back to the Americana leanings defining much of the release and it interestingly negates none of the original’s power, particularly during its famed chorus. It is a fitting and outstanding conclusion for this EP release.
Highway Wolf plants its flag as a project with passion and more than a little skill. Hellman’s hand is the guiding force behind this project, but working with a crew of Bay Area talents and his family makes this much more of a personal affair than your typical release. It never smacks, however, of some informal jam session on a handful of old tracks. Instead, Purdie’s Dream is vital, contemporary, and every bit an expression of Mick Hellman’s soul. It’s a must listen for anyone interested in authentic and impassioned music. Highway Wolf is, without question, off to a magnificent start.