Ira Wolf is Montana born and Nashville resident, but her music has taken her around the globe – including to Australia – to tour. She draws on a lineage of folk, bluegrass and Americana, and she’s also studied at the esteemed Berklee College of Music. A formal education in music is not essential, of course – some may argue that it can get in the way of an artist expressing themselves. But there’s another argument to be made: that a knowledge of structure is fundamentally important in order to explore freely. Learn the rules before you break them.
Wolf’s pedigree is evident in the construction of the nine wonderful songs on her third album, The Closest Thing to Home. There is a wealth of skill behind each of them: they are restrained and expressive at the same time, a balance that is often present in artists who are experienced enough to know exactly what to deliver and when. It’s the difficult art of editing yourself, made more challenging when you have a voice like Wolf’s, which clearly has great range and a lovely timbre, and which could, no doubt, be let off the leash to wander and trill all over the place. Except that wouldn’t serve the song – and there is that restraint again. That’s not to say that Wolf is straining – she sounds completely at ease within each of these songs. Instead, it is her saying to the audience, ‘I’m here with you – I’m not going anywhere.’ And that creates an intimacy with the listener that is an essential component of the experience of listening to this album.
Lyrically, Wolf is both vulnerable and strong. These are confessional, emotional songs that honour the listener, too, because Wolf is essentially saying that she trusts us enough to share. The album sounds immediately accessible – it felt weirdly like a relief to hear these songs for the first time. The album also grows richer and warmer with each listening, the way a great friendship should. And that’s what Wolf seems to be offering: an opportunity to get to know her well. It’s a beautiful privilege to have it, and to be able to listen to it over and over.
The Closest Thing to Home is out now.