The Wood Brothers have yet to disappoint but the trio has been on a particularly strong run since 2008’s Loaded and the leap between the pretty great 2013 LP The Muse and this we-have-arrived outing is nothing short than amazing. While the group—Woods Oliver and Chris and family pal Jano Rix—remains rooted in the Americana stuff that made albums such as Smoke Ring Halo great, the palette grows a little here to incorporate elements that recall the psychedelic haze of 1960s British pop music and grittier sounds that land somewhere between there and the present.
Never ones for overproduction, the tradition continues here but this time out you can positively hear the dirt on the studio floor and the cracks and crevices of Chris’s bass. There’s a thick atmosphere that comes across here, as though you can imagine happening upon the three hanging out in a rural kitchen somewhere talking, drinking, and playing until the wee hours of the night while communing with the muse. It’s the sound of the blues of course that has been there from the start but becomes arguably more pronounced here than on previous recordings.
“Never and Always” is as good an example as any of the deep grooves the trio wraps itself in, the lyrics striking the perfect balance between sin and salvation, the music teetering on the precipice of the sacred and profane and maybe landing in such a place as to suggest that those two forces might actually be one and the same. You can hear that the players haven’t had to find the song but rather that it came from somewhere deep within and it, like so many other things, oozes forth in a steady and profound stream.
As familiar as some of those sounds and symbols and ways of speaking shorthand can be there’s still something unfamiliar and unexpected here. Witness “Two Places”, a travelling-is-hard-but-all-I-know piece where nothing quite lands where you expect. The initial notes are almost tentative, unsure and maybe even wrong, as though the whole thing could fall apart by the next measure. Then, just when it seems like the band can’t come any closer to faltering—right around the two minute mark—the song finds its footing, sounds bold and confident and resolved before giving into the confusion once more. It’s a beautiful push and pull that perfectly captures the disparate emotions described in the lyrics.
Brother Oliver’s guitar sound has never sounded as dirty as it does here and those who haven’t been paying attention on past records will have to take notice of his tasteful playing and cleverly constructed lines. His work on “Raindrop” drips with a kind of swampy filth that serves as a perfect counterpoint to the almost angelic vocals; the rhythms are insistent, sexy and reminiscent of the kind of thing The Band could get up to on numbers such as “Ophelia”. Meanwhile, Rix almost singlehandedly rewrites the book on percussion in the Americana setting, dodging clichés at every turn with playing that is as fresh as anything his mates have to offer, his playing as melodic, responsive and never less than perfect.
Fans flocked to the album’s first single, “Singin’ To Strangers” upon its release earlier this year and for good reason—it has all the elements that have made these brothers great in the past: the careful turn of phrase or perfect resolution of a chord but like many singles the song only tells part of the story found elsewhere and hardly prepares the listener for the late-coming beauty of “Touch Of Your Hand” or the creaky closer “River Of Sin”.
The playing and singing are as impeccable as you might expect, but it’s the songs that shine brightest and make you forget all about the musicianship, leaving you with nothing more to do than sit back, relax and take in another smart, smoldering effort from a familial collective that outshines most of the same kind.
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