- Artist: The Wood Brothers
- Title: Kingdom In My Mind
- Released: 2020
- Format: Vinyl/Digital Download
- Genre: Americana
- Beverage of Choice: Nescafe Clasico Instant Coffee with cream
Now and again Spotify shows its worth as a music discovery tool; despite the seemingly infinite array of derivative and ultimately boring music available through the streaming platform there are pockets of unexplored excellence for the curious music lover. I discovered such a seam of gold recently when the algorithm recommended I listen to a Wood Brothers song based on my playing Justin Townes Earle’s new album The Saint of Lost Causes. The opening song on this new release by the Nashville-based trio sounds like it could have been lifted directly from the sessions for Earles’ well-received offering (recently reviewed here). “Alabaster” is certainly not your grandad’s folk music; progressive, jazzy and bluesy, it hooked me right away and I ended up purchasing the vinyl release within the hour.
And I am so glad I did! The album is immediately accessible but offers up a myriad of nuanced, complex and near-perfect musical moments through the course of its ten tracks and quirky outtro cut “Little Blue (Reprise)“.
The Wood Brothers are comprised of brothers (go figure) Oliver and Chris Wood and Jano Rix (not a brother). Together they swing like no folk trio you ever heard before. Harmonies on “Alabaster” are evocative of a gospel choir and the hip-sway rhythm wonderfully counter-balanced by vibraphone, electric guitar and upright bass. Rix is a versatile force in the group, playing percussion and keyboards that sometimes rock, sometimes swing but are always exactly right for the song. The vocal duties are shared across the songs by the brothers and the aforementioned harmonization is a defining element to their sound. This type of songwriting is a dying art and these guys are at the top of their collective game.
“Little Bit Sweet” is a wonderful sing-along track with depth in arrangement and emotional impact, one of my new guilty pleasures. “Jitterbug Love” begins with slide guitar and a blues-based feel that jumps off the vinyl, asserting itself as a great hook on top of the call and response harmonies and guitar work. “Cry Over Nothing” presents a world-weary lyric made palatable by the humorous starting line and flawless delivery; organ and upright bass provide a solid foundation of gospel-tinged southern jam. Rix can play. The song is firmly 70’s but totally relevant to today, timeless and beautifully executed.
“Don’t Think About My Death” starts out as eccentric jug music and then rocks out with guitar and lyrically traces itself back to mountain music dealing with love and death and living with both in perfect suspense. In other hands, this could have been a Violent Femmes song. “Little Bit Broken” is jazzy (super bass recording again) with the trio swinging along vocally and a magical electric piano break and then ditto harmonica; at this point in the album you should be fairly convinced that these guys can pretty much play anything, stylistically and technically. What’s missing (if you’re a purist) is banjo – but I’m ok with that as modern retro bands like Mumford & Sons and the Lumineers have used it enough to go round for now.
“The One I Love” is the folksiest track on the album with a fiddle, acoustic and shuffle drum arrangement that reminds you that this, after all, a roots-based band. “Little Blue” (you may be catching a little theme going on) sounds like a Harry Connick Jr. tune circa 1994; sharply etched funk rhythm, sleigh bells, vocal counterpoints throughout and a feel-good, head-bobbing outtro. “A Dream’s a Dream” features honky-tonk piano, slide-guitar work par-excellence and a Dylanesque vocal break.
The final full track “Satisfied” provides a fitting conclusion to the album musically and vocally with the band’s full range of instrumental prowess on display and a gospel-tinged delivery that is almost hymn-like. It leaves this old, jaded and almost worn-out listener smiling; transported again by the sheer delight of beautiful music poured into my heart, belief renewed in the power of music to lift the soul, daily fears and anxieties suspended for a magic few moments and I am, truly, satisfied.