East Side Slim
Wood Brothers – Loaded
Blue Note/EMI, 2008
The Wood Brothers consists of two brothers,
Oliver and Chris. Oliver sings, well, vocalizes might
be a better word, and plays various guitars while
Chris plays bass – incredibly well – and
sings background vocals for the most part. This is
really a side project of sorts for the brothers, as
each is a member of other bands. Chris is 1/3 of Medeski,
Martin and Wood. John Medeski produced this CD and
plays assorted keyboards here when they were required.
Billy Martin, the drummer for MM&W, sits on the
drum chair for a couple of tracks on Loaded. Brother
Oliver Wood fronts the blues-funk-jam band King Johnson
out of the Atlanta area. I found a good description
(in the All Music Guide) of the sound The Wood Brothers
attain, calling this sound “a roots-inflected
blend of blues, folk and rock.” It’s true,
and it’s very good. The sound tends to be a
blend of gentle, backwoods, atmospheric, spiritual,
and gutsy. You don’t believe me? Then on to
The Songs: (all songs written by
The Wood Brothers unless otherwise noted)
1. Loving Arms: -- This is a sweet
song about how much a man can miss his special lady.
You can sympathize with musicians, many of whom lead
vagabond lifestyles, when you listen to the world
weary voice of Oliver Wood singing this one.
2. Postcards From Hell: -- You might
think I’m reaching, but this song makes me think
of what Paul Simon might have sounded like had a chosen
a more bluesy or rootsy direction rather than the
poppy route he took (not including his Graceland lp
that featured Ladysmith Black Mambazo, which remains
a favorite of mine to this day.) It’s very gentle
yet ingratiates its meaning deep into your mind. Oliver’s
raspy voice and distorted guitar roughen this song
up well, helping it to appeal to blues-oriented listeners.
3. Pray Enough: -- There’s
a bit of a jam-band vibe to this tune, but all in
a good way. It’s slow and spiritual and oozes
soul. Chris Wood’s acoustic bass work here is
outstanding. It’s hard to play this funky when
you play this laidback, but Chris nails it!
4. Loaded: -- This song works a slow,
melancholy mood, rooted around Oliver’s vocals,
both in tone and lyrical content. Oliver makes you
FEEL what he’s singing about. There’s
also some very nice steel guitar work here courtesy
of Darrick (Darick?) Campbell. Campbell has risen
to fame (well, semi-fame anyway) via his Sacred Steel
work with the Campbell Brothers gospel group. Sacred
Steel is the Holiness Church-based music from which
Robert Randolph sprung forth. Randolph has worked
with members of Medeski, Martin & Wood (Chris
Wood), and all of these folks have become popular
with the jam band crowd.
5. Walk Away: -- This one really
reminds me of something Paul Simon could have put
together. Don’t let that scare you away if you
don’t appreciate his music, as this song is
much rougher around the edges than Simon’s work.
The song is up-tempo (at least compared to the others
songs on this CD), and the bass work alone is worth
the price of admission.
6. Don’t Look Back: (Chris
Wood) -- This is NOT the old Boston song of the same
name. This song is probably the most folk-oriented
tune on the CD. It’s a very quiet tune, with
Oliver singing in duet with the female vocalist Frazey
Ford. The instrumental backdrop is acoustic guitar,
with acoustic bass being added in as the song progresses.
It’s a very beautiful song, one which I like
very much – and that’s coming from a man
who is not a folk music fan as a rule.
7. Twisted: -- This song brings on
a swampy-southern vibe, which rides the bass work
of Chris Wood all the way home. What a cool bass line
in this song! There’s splashes of distorted
electric guitar thrown around the verses, which the
choruses kicking it up a little bit.
8. Fall Too Fast: -- This is a slow
pop song that includes a small string section. It
all works very well, with a very cool contrast going
on between Oliver’s rough-edged voice and the
sweetness of the strings. Once again, Chris’
bass playing is featured prominently – and with
good reason. The man is a quiet monster on acoustic
9. Angel: (Jimi Hendrix) -- Yep,
it’s a cover of Jimi Hendrix’ song Angel.
But it’s no ordinary cover, as The Wood Brothers
turn the song upside down and play it as a very cool,
syncopated reggae tune, although one with a little
darker edge than usual. There’s also a guest
vocalist on board in the form of the soulful young
singer Amos Lee. You’ll recognize some of the
instrumental stylings Hendrix was famous for as the
Wood’s left a few of them relatively intact,
in a fun way.
10. Buckets of Rain: (Bob Dylan)
--This song is a mellow folksy groover. I know, that
sounds almost oxymoronic. But it’s true. Once
again, The Wood Brothers manage to strip a song bare,
all the while keeping it sounding gentle and soulful
without ever becoming maudlin. Very nice.
11. Make Me Down A Pallet On Your Floor:
(traditional) --The guys bring the energy level way
up on this one. They take this old traditional tune
and add all kinds of bells and whistles (literally),
along with adding another dose of Darrick Campbell’s
steel guitar. There’s a special secret instrument
in the mix, too, but I’m not going to spoil
the surprise for you. I will say it kind of rhymes
with a certain city located in western Michigan. You
figure it out!
12. Still Close: (Oliver Wood) --Well,
that brings us to the set closer. This one features
the atmospheric Wurlitzer work of John Medeski and
the deep, mournful slide work of Oliver Wood. This
is a slow tune, a love song directed to a departed
loved one, most likely Renate Wood. She was the Woods’
mother, who passed away in 2007, and the album is
dedicated to her. It’s very spiritual and quite
The verdict is…I like this CD a very much. If
you enjoy many different shading of music, blends
of styles that are all rooted in a bluesy spiritual
base, then this album will bring much satisfaction
to the listener. I stated it at the beginning of the
review: I like this CD a lot. In fact, I recommend
it highly. It’s not entirely unlike something
you would hear from a band like JJ Grey & Mofro,
but to put in it in more bluesy terms, The Wood Brothers
are to Mississippi John Hurt as Mofro is to Son House.
There is a gentleness and spirituality to these songs
that just can’t be denied and that will bring
joy to all who give this album – Loaded –
a listen. STLBluesometer rating? Although not pure
blues by any means, this music is so good that I have
to give it a 4.0.