The Wood Brothers are haunted. The ghost of King Johnson, Oliver’s former band, skulks alongside their latest efforts, sometimes popping up as a shimmery apparition just barely able to make itself noticed, other times as a substantial haint fluttering its sheet with a snap, directing the band through a bluesy, back porch second-line funkathon that was that band’s stock-in-trade.
Oliver had said at the time that 2018’s One Drop Of Truth was the most purely Woods Brothers album the group, (Oliver on lead vocals and guitar, brother Chris on bass and Jano Rix on drums, “shuitar,” and keys) has ever made. But he’s changed that opinion with the release of their latest, Kingdom In My Mind. He admitted that on the self-produced One Drop, they were not influenced “other than by each other and by the records we were listening to.” But he feels that they’ve gone even deeper into themselves on this new one, recording it in their own studio: “We didn’t even have to leave our own little bubble to get this record done,” Wood says.
That bubble enabled the band to have the jams they did in the studio already in album quality shape to capture their ideas without heavy editing and overdubbing. Chris took on most of the task of whittling those hours of improv down to workable cuts, but all three contributed to the writing process and vocals, with brother Chris taking on more vocal leads than before.
King Johnson’s ghost is rattling its chains audibly on “The One That I Love,” sounding like it would have been right at home at one of Levon’s rambles, a slice of shambling, rockin’ bluesy Americana loping along with a Big Easy second line strut. “Little Bit Broken” begins like a King Johnson song, but as it progress, there’s more of a jazzy influence from brother Chris’s Medeski Martin and Wood days jumping into the mix.
Elsewhere, the band conjures up a vision of Jerry Lee Lewis on acid for “A Dream’s A Dream,” a lysergic, swampy nightmare. And with Oliver’s bluesy Appalachia-tinged vocals, “A Little Bit Sweet” could hold its own at any bluegrass festival or blues stage. They lean toward the former with their high and lonesome version of The Meters on “Little Blue,” seemingly sashaying down the street with a mile-high altitude.
Overall, it’s a great effort, a blend of past and present that keeps The Wood Brothers in the ghost-busting business for sequel after sequel.