The band’s sixth studio effort is further proof that singer-guitarist Oliver Wood, bassist Chris Wood and drummer and multi-instrumentalist Jano Rix are operating on a different plane than contemporaries. The core songwriting duo of the brothers Wood wrote cohesive stories that dealt with concepts such as desire, salvation and heartache with honesty. Since making Rix a permanent member of the band during the recording of the groups’ last release “The Muse,” the band’s sound has grown ever more variable and interesting, mixing blues, country, gospel and rock into a stunningly creative blend.
Together, The Wood Brothers’ songwriting and musicality created 10 unique worlds over the course of the album that are full of life and color. The music built the environment in tones of desert meadows and prairie skies, giving a setting for the vivid stories to play out.
With a voice like a handsome crow, Oliver touches on the healing powers of musical performance in the churning “Singin’ To Strangers,” a pursuit surely very familiar to him. As he sings, “I keep dreaming of those snakes eyes/ I’m lookin’ for my paradise,” in his high-lonesome wail on the exuberant “Snake Eyes,” the object of his desire couldn’t be much clearer. The song is a runaway truck of countrified blues that rumbles along with optimistic force behind golden harmonies, surging organ and charging drums. If the search for paradise is going to be a while, at least you’ll be able to dance along the way.
The rhythm of The Wood Brothers is something that certainly separates them from other acoustic bands based in Americana and blues. While most bands remain fairly static, the band’s songs can twist and shout with feeling. But then again, most bands don’t have the nimbleness of Chris Wood and his abstract-jazz sensibilities from Medeski Martin & Wood mixed with his brother’s genre blending and the chameleon-like ability of Rix to adapt to a colorful groove. The straight-forward verses of “Raindrop” give way to a funky, little breakdown in the chorus and refrain and the acoustic soulfulness of “Never and Always” sparkles with brightness despite the melancholy subject matter.
The riveting “Without Desire” is the ideal culmination of all the members’ musicality. The Cuban rhythm herks and jerks in drunken tandem with the electric, jangly-noir melody akin to a Tom Waits demo. The ruthless shuffle drags you into its rhythm almost immediately. As the song diligently rolls along, the statement “I can’t live without desire” morphs from a tense demand to a joyful realization in a boisterous outro.
The winding journey of “Paradise” concludes in the enveloping waters of “River of Sin.” “They say good things happen upriver/ They say the river it can wash a man clean/ But down here the water is just dirty/ You can try but it’s hard to get up from downstream/ But I’ll try again,” sings Oliver, accompanied by piano and backup-singers in the acoustic-gospel track. The soothing mood envelops you and you feel yourself to sinking into the cool river with Wood to also look for salvation. It is not an easy journey to search for your salvation but paradise may lay at the end, and The Wood Brothers are encouraging you to go find it.
Related story: Q &A with Oliver Wood, photos of Jan. 18 concert at Cargo in Reno. LINK
- The Wood Brothers
Release date: Oct. 2, 2015
Notable Tracks: “Without Desire,” “River of Sin,” “Snake Eyes”