Ways Not to Lose
Backroads meets the big city in the collaboration between Oliver Wood and his brother Chris, the bass player from Medeski Martin and Wood. Though they were raised around music, especially music that their father played in the Denver folk scene, Chris and Oliver went their separate ways musically and geographically. Chris went North to study jazz among the intellectuals and eventually found musicians of similar inclination and formed the jazz heavy jam trio Medeski Martin and Wood. Oliver chose to explore the university system in California before settling in Atlanta and absorbing the local blues scene. Oliver’s first full-time music gig was playing with Tinsley Ellis. Later, he formed what became a six-piece New Orleans funk and blues band called King Johnson.
“We lived so far apart and grew apart socially, but grew closer musically,” Oliver told me in an interview, “We both learned how to play, how to listen, how to improvise.”
As chance would have it, the brothers’ bands were booked on a double bill in Winston-Salem about three years ago. Oliver sat in with his guitar in Chris’ band, and soon the brothers began working up some old King Johnson songs. After cutting a demo, they started touring together early last year in between gigs with each of their bands. Last September, the brothers entered Allaire Studios and recorded Ways Not To Lose.
What emerged was a blend of the complexities of jazz bass and the gutsyness of roots blues. Oliver’s songs, which he delivers with a plain honesty, are fresh yet capture the road-weariness of Delta blues and are enhanced by Chris’ vocal backup. The instrumentation is minimalist but organic and is shown in Oliver’s clean guitar work, whether on a moody resonator guitar, an acoustic, or an electric, and Chris’ intricate standup bass riffs, that are enhanced with restrained slaps or a bow. Restrained drums and percussion by Kenny Wollesen complement without intruding.
Of particular note is the flat out blues of “Chocolate on My Tongue,” with it’s bar room feel and the unexpected line, “If I die young, at least I got some chocolate on my tongue.” And “Spirit” is more about wanting to find it than not: “If the spirit moves you/please won’t you send him/to me.”
The only cover in the lot is their naked version of the Stanley Brothers standard “Angel Band.” It’s naked, without elaborate harmonies (except for Chris’s pleasant backup) or intense instrumentation. Yet, it sounds like something you could still hear sung in some tiny little church along the Mississippi.
Ways Not to Lose is a welcome glimpse into what the Wood Brothers will be bringing us for years to come. They will be appearing at the 10,000 Lakes Festival later this month, along with Medeski Martin and Wood and a slew of other acts.
Release date: March 7, 2006
Label: Blue Note
Rating: 8.0 / 10
On the web: http://www.thewoodbrothers.com
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