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The Wood Brothers

Ways Not to Lose

(Blue Note; US: 7 Mar 2006; UK: Available as import)

The Wood Brothers are actually brothers, who knew? Oliver and Chris are originally from Boulder, Colorado but spent many years playing apart, with Chris focusing on jazz and rock in the Big Apple, and Oliver sporting his own group, King Johnson. But Chris might be the more familiar of the two because of his role in the group, Martin Medeski Wood. This new album was even produced by John Medeski, but this is primarily the work of the Wood Brothers, and their influences are indeed showcased on this debut album. The record opens with “One More Day” with Chris on upright bass, as Oliver picks a blues-meets-Latin groove that is instantly directed at one’s hips. But the following harmonies sound like old-time country soaring over the top of the tune, seemingly dying out only to get a second wind. The track has a string of influences and genre-bending sounds running throughout it, with is a good omen of what is to come.


From there, the Brothers take things down into another slow, blues based folk direction that settles into a deep, lovable groove while they offer up light harmonies. Perhaps the best thing about the song is how it’s allowed to breathe, letting the instruments do as much work, if not more, than the lyrics. And it’s also the type of song where the groove could go on for five or six minutes without the slightest notion that they were overextending themselves. The vocals also bring to mind a raggedy Ricky Nelson, as the Woods sing about trying to be the train and not the rail. But perhaps the prettiest of the early lot is “Luckiest Man”, which could have been found on an early Black Crowes album thanks to its southern-tinged, Stones-ish balladry, style and pizzazz. It’s this simplicity that makes the songs work quite nicely, particularly the sparse vibe fueling the mid-tempo, laidback “Glad”, as Oliver and Chris take turns leading the song, whether it’s the thick plucks of the upright bass or some pleasing riffs running underneath the song.


Of the dozen songs on the album, there are a few that are a bit too meandering, especially “Chocolate on My Tongue”, which sounds like a subdued cover of something Canned Heat might have done long ago. And the song ends with a rather quick whimper. But fortunately, they up the ante with a bluesy romp that sounds lively and very engaging. “Atlas” has just enough punch to it to make the track soar as Oliver dishes out some great Delta-era riffs. The Brothers take as much influence from Appalachia as they do from Motown, especially on the soulful, slightly jazzy “Time To Stand Still”, one of the genuine surprises on the record. But they seem to bite off more than they can chew with “Spirit”. One would believe it has a lot of spirit, however, it’s a rather tame number that doesn’t really go anywhere special.


The record takes a dirge-ish tone with “Angel Band” as the duo try to conjure up the images of Hank Williams and other old-time country greats. And it picks up the pace just a hair for another lovable, traditional arrangement. The Wood Brothers have been categorized as folk, but I don’t see the connection when listening to a bluesy-riddled “Where My Baby Might Be”; it’s dark, murky and driven by some great harmonica before opening itself up into a louder, more forceful gem with the some slide guitar. The Wood Brothers tap into a lot of influences here, making the narrow folk categorization rather lazy and limp. On Ways Not To Lose, they have shown off their multiple influences in a way that rarely loses.

Rating:

Originally from Cape Breton, MacNeil is currently writing for the Toronto Sun as well as other publications, including All Music Guide, Billboard.com, NME.com, Country Standard Time, Skope Magazine, Chart Magazine, Glide, Ft. Myers Magazine and Celtic Heritage. A graduate of the University of King's College, MacNeil currently resides in Toronto. He has interviewed hundreds of acts ranging from Metallica and AC/DC to Daniel Lanois and Smokey Robinson. MacNeil (modestly referred to as King J to friends), a diehard Philadelphia Flyers fan, has seen the Rolling Stones in a club setting, thereby knowing he will rest in peace at some point down the road. Oh, and he writes for PopMatters.com.


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