Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Wolf at the Door (Rounder Records)

Wolf at the Door finds Walter Washington hitting new and great soul territory. His three previous albums were from much the same fabric—a boiling cauldron of funk, jazz and blues, with the Wolf’s smoky Al Green/Tyrone Davis-style crooning over his rich, jazzy guitar chording. Although all three were good, at times the focus was lost in extended jams (most Wolf songs last over five minutes and are longer in concert) and extemporaneous funk at the expense of the melody.

Here the melodies are dead on. “Hello Stranger” may be the “cleanest” song Washington ever recorded, with pure, rich vocal and guitar chords, as if Wolfman, who hadn’t had an album released in three years, took the lyric seriously and took a look in the mirror to reach inside of himself for the pure soul everyone knew he was capable of. The same can be said of the sleek instrumental “Peepin’” and the soul-kissin’ ballads “It Doesn’t Really Matter” and “Don’t Say Goodbye.” This is music to curl up to in a warm bed with a warm friend.

The funk is not lost—”Heatin’ It Up” and “Tailspin” are as hip-wallopin’ as anything he’s ever produced. And “At Night in the City” is a chilling blues. The Wolf even tops it all with a horn-blastin’ joyous tribute to his mentor, Tyrone Davis.

The Wolfman is grinnin’ for good reason on the cover of the album—he’s got proud new fangs, bitin’ full chomp into the finest soul of his career.