Through their songwriting, roots music vanguards The Wood Brothers exemplify what we gain when we heed our senses: We learn, we grow, and at the baseline, we live. But the title of their eighth studio record — Heart Is the Hero — encourages us upfront to ponder the role the heart, not just a vital organ but our most prominent biological metaphor for compassion, plays in every action we take and every thought we have.
Take, for instance, “Mean Man World,” where Chris Wood works out his frustrations and fears about fatherhood in post-Roe America. “My little girl is strong as hell / Her story of love and loss is hers to tell,” Wood warbles on the first verse over the click-tap of what sounds like a tack piano. “Her words ring of truth just like a bell / The more I hear the more I do well.”
In 2023, parenting means raising our children on wobbly social tectonic plates, with women’s rights — the ones they’re afforded, anyway, and the extent to which they can exercise them — in perilous flux. The Wood Brothers lean hard into the sonic associations of “Mean Man World” — the piano’s “Wild West saloon” character feels intentional – but siphon intermittent hope through its stop-go structure.
The Wood Brothers don’t belabor their point; the songs speak for themselves. Fresh new hells arise every day, something expounded on in the doleful, soulful “Rollin’ On,” a track to sway to whose gentle vibes belie the gravity of its content. We endure by holding on to one another. That requires grit — the heart’s domain. Every act of survival the track points to — outrunning fire, outswimming floodwaters, outlasting your hometown — is physical, but the engine driving them is the heart.
Rather than cloying, though, all of this naked sentiment makes Heart is the Hero feel surprisingly bold. Most of all, the songs are affecting and ranged in style in true Wood Brothers fashion. “Pilgrim,” the album opener, invites us to swish along freely to its funked-up groove; “Between the Beats” takes a stripped-down tack, giving listeners a slow-dance tune suffused by grief. The countrified “Someone for Everyone” compels joy, as Oliver Wood belts out the verses and chorus with hymnal exuberance, and “Line Those Pockets,” maybe the angriest track the Woods have ever produced, leaves listeners stomping their feet.
The Wood Brothers put their hearts into their craft, and listeners’ hearts can’t help but resonate as they respond to it.
The Wood Brothers’ Heart Is the Hero is out April 14 via Thirty Tigers.