The Wood Brothers – The Muse
The Wood Brothers’ Smoke Ring Halo (2011) is one of the best albums I’ve heard in a long time, so it was with some apprehension that I slid the band’s new CD into my player. Could anything really compare to that superlative effort? If the band is The Wood Brothers and the album is The Muse, the answer is a resounding YES! With ten original songs and one great cover, the Brothers’ latest offering proves these stellar musicians aren’t resting on their musical laurels. In fact, they just keep getting better.
The Wood Brothers are an immensely talented trio featuring brothers Oliver (King Johnson) and Chris Wood (Medeski, Martin & Wood), along with the inventive percussion genius and multi-instrumentalist Jano Rix. Produced by music legend Buddy Miller, who even contributes some guitar, The Muse is beautifully intimate and authentic, an amalgamation of the brothers’ diverse influences – a free form jazz idiom, anchored by a sexy, bluesy, funky, rootsy groove and seasoned with some Gospel.
With the exception of the satisfying cover of Robert Camille’s “I Got Loaded,” the trio shares songwriting credits on the CD. The Wood Brother’s rendition of this catchy classic rivals that of Los Lobos. Theirs is a slow swing with lovely harmonies, Chris’ killer harmonica and Oliver’s expressive vocals.
The CD’s title track highlights Chris’ gorgeous bass (bowed on this particular song), Oliver’s uniquely compelling voice, and the trio’s often poignant and frequently brilliant lyrics.
As I sit on the end of this dirty old bar
Trying to work some things out and not getting too far
As I drown out the voices that are getting me down
There’s a muse all alone on the other side of town
And if I was thinking, I’d be thinking thank God…
Whoever you are…for all the whiskey in this dirty old bar
Times like these so sad but so true
Thinking’s the last thing that you want to do
“Honey Jar,” much like “Shoofly Pie” from the band’s previous release, circles around a playful, sticky-sweet and slightly naughty, double entendre of a refrain. The rockin’, funked up tune slows to a striptease:
Every night you get the same old dream
There’s a spoon full of homey where your heart should be
And there’s honey dripping off of your spoon
Honey dripping off of your spoon (repeat)
“Firewater,” a beautiful slow waltz, tells the story of a broken heart, capitalizing once again on the trio’s skillful lyrics, lovely harmonies and Oliver’s plaintive vocals with their exquisite ache. While Chris’ bass is stunningly front and center on all these tunes, the younger Wood brother also has considerable talent as a singer, handily taking the lead on two of the tracks. Rix’s harmonies and “shuitar” (a tricked out acoustic guitar-cum-percussion instrument) are icing on the cake. There’s not a disappointing tune here and much to be celebrated. I can’t wait to see what this band does next.