AP NEWS

Jon Wolfe isn’t afraid to keep things traditional

June 21, 2017 GMT

Jon Wolfe has toured the state with Cody Johnson and Aaron Watson, a pair of Texas country heavyweights who each played RodeoHouston this year.

Wolfe calls them both “really close buddies” and says he hopes to follow in their footsteps.

“I always like to study teams that I’m out with and see how they run their business. With Cody’s record, especially the ‘Gotta Be Me’ album, I just saw him take more chances,” Wolfe says. “That inspired me to think about that, too. They’re where they are because they worked really hard, and it was their time and their opportunity.

“It tells me, ‘Maybe that could happen for you.’ ”

It’s a conceivable goal given Wolfe’s ambition, charm and steady upward climb. His new album, “Any Night in Texas,” was released this month, and it finds him continuing to hone his traditional country sound. It’s a polished effort anchored by Wolfe’s booming, confident voice, which fills every inch of a dance hall. He’ll bring that sound to the Big Texas Dance Hall & Saloon Friday night.

The album’s first single, “Boots on a Dance Floor,” topped the regional chart and has racked up 1.5 million streams on Spotify. Current single “Baby This and Baby That” looks poised for similar acclaim. The album itself cracked the iTunes country top 10 upon its release.

Wolfe says he incorporated a few pop elements into the mix, including handclaps and layered harmonies. But rest assured, this is a deeply country affair. And he continues to be inspired by the king - George Strait.

“The further I go in this, the more I realize that the stake in the ground is really my voice and, ultimately, what songs I choose to sing. I don’t know that I’m even capable of going so far as a Sam Hunt song,” Wolfe says.

“If you choose to be a traditional country singer, you’re already following a roundabout code of what to do. I want to stay in this world of country, but I want to keep the music fresh. You find little places to push it. This record challenged me: ‘Where are you right now in your career? How bad do you wanna make this record great?’ If you’re hitting obstacles, you just gotta fight through them, which is a lot like my whole career.”

Wolfe was born in Oklahoma and now lives in Austin. He spent a few years in Houston, sharpening his sound in front of crowds at Blanco’s, Firehouse Saloon and Continental Club. He was also roommates with Hayes Carll.

He released his first album in 2005 and has racked up a string of Texas radio hits, including “I Don’t Dance,” “It All Happened in a Honky Tonk” and “Smile on Mine.”

With the new “Any Night in Texas” album, Wolfe feels like he’s finally, really, truly coming into his own. And it’s reflected in everything from the refined sound to the sun-tanned album cover. It features a rusty pickup and his dog, Sissy, who he’s had for almost 13 years since he lived in Houston.

The photo was shot by Larry Pena, a wedding photographer from San Antonio and fan of Wolfe’s music who regularly popped up at shows with his camera. One photo shoot turned into several, which eventually led to the cover.

“If there’s one picture that says ‘Jon Wolfe,’ to me it’s that one. We said, ‘WWGSD - What would George Strait do?’ He’d put his dog in the photo,” Wolfe says.

“That can be a long process for artists, to be comfortable in your skin and just be yourself. I’ve struggled with it. I think we get in the mode of trying to be salesmen in a way instead of just having the confidence to be me. I think this record’s one step in that direction.”