Always Smilin’ is Oliver Wood’s first solo album. But not to worry. Wood has no intention of leaving past glories behind.
King Johnson is still embedded in the fabric, entwined with the Wood Brothers, who he says he has no plans of cutting loose. It’s just a project he’s been working on throughout the pandemic to keep his skills sharp, collaborating with friends who had drifted through his Nashville home in the year prior to the pandemic. Pieced together from various recording sessions live and long distance, it provides a good sampling of Wood’s syncopated friendships.
King Johnson co-founder Chris Long helps the blue blood flow once again with a co-write on “Fine Line,” a B-3 boosted, burbly second-line celebration authenticated with Wood’s finest Dr. John funk patois laid on top.
Like Delbert McClinton fronting the Dirty Dozen, Wood rips it up on a duet with Susan Tedeschi delivering some searing soul on “Get the Blues.” Wood Brothers percussionist Jano Rix plays chicken coop on this one, a down-home instrument once featured in an early Wood project, Coop DeVille, sounding like a frenzied yardbird trying to break out of the pen but being very cool about it, with well-placed syncopated kicks so as not to draw too much attention to itself.
The cast includes Ric Robertson on guitar, organ, and mandolin and Hiss Golden Messenger’s Phil Cook co-writing one tune (“Soul of This Town”) and playing guitar, harp, and organ as well as singing with Wood on the bluesy you-can’t-go-home-again themed cut.
“Roots” sounds like Leon Russell and his piano sitting in for Lowell George in Little Feat. Lightning Hopkins cut “Now Is the Needed Time” back in 1950, and Eric Bibb has the prettiest version, immortalized on 2005’s Spirit and the Blues, and an integral part of every set. Wood’s take on the old gospel standard included as a bonus track has some shimmy in it, a street parade back from the graveyard version you can strut and twirl your umbrella to.
No matter how much he shakes and shimmies, Wood never shakes all the dirt off his roots, leaving plenty of fertile soil from which to harvest fresh crops, as tasty as the first planting.