The Wood Brothers: An acoustic jam band


Thursday at Radio Radio,

you can see a band jam, but it won't necessarily be a jam band.

The Southern roots sound

of the Wood Brothers, led by guitarist-vocalist Oliver Wood, bears little

resemblance to the jazzy grooves and improv of his bassist brother Chris's

other trio, Medeski, Martin & Wood.

As heard on their

forthcoming album, Smoke Ring Halo, the Wood Brothers are all about tight songs

and an unvarnished, semi-acoustic but potent blend of rock, folk, country,

blues, funk, soul, gospel and, not least of all, engaging wordplay.

The title track, with

its horns and organ, evokes the classic air of the Band as Oliver sings:

Bet your heart was an

ice cube last night

Just chilling your

whiskey blood

Putting your mind way

out of sight, and that's OK

'Cause you got a

smoke ring halo that just won't blow away

The brothers grew up in

Colorado, with Oliver the elder by four years. Both loved music, and they

collaborated a bit in younger days.


were a couple years there, in my late teens and his early teens," Oliver

recalls, "when we were proficient enough to sit down and play together with a

four-track recorder and write little ditties and tunes."


coming of age, however, they set off in different directions. Oliver headed for

Atlanta to soak up more of his preferred sounds, eventually fronting the

blues-rock band King Johnson through the release of five albums. Chris went to

New York and fell into the avant-garde jazz scene in Manhattan and Brooklyn,

where he connected with John Medeski and Billy Martin and formed an instrumental

trio that somehow became a favorite of Phish fans.


however, the brothers reconnected to do a little recording, liked what they

heard, and ended up releasing a live EP in 2005. Signing with Blue Note Records

for two acclaimed albums, 2006's Ways Not to Lose and 2008's Loaded, they grew their

familial side project into a full-time concern.

"We had

these sort of parallel music paths for, gosh, like 15 years, before we even

started playing together again, so it was kind of cool how it worked out,"

Oliver says. "It seems like we're coming from such different places, but if you

look at our iPods, we both have Ray Charles and Charles Mingus and Miles Davis

and Muddy Waters and just the roots of everything – African music, Latin


One way

or another, many of those influences factor into Smoke Ring Halo, the Wood Brothers'

third studio release and one of the first on roots-rocker Zac Brown's new

Southern Ground Records label. Brown contributes some backing vocals to the

album, which also benefits from organ work by Medeski and a horn section of top

Atlanta session players.


handles most of the lead vocals, with a gritty tenor that falls somewhere

between Van Morrison and the Black Crowes' Chris Robinson. Chris Wood –

in addition to playing upright bass and harmonica – sings the occasional

lead and lots of close harmony, in that way that only a sibling can.


cut "Mary Anna" is a boisterous tale of love growing cold that packs a series

of tempo and meter changes into 3Ã�'Æ'ââ'¬Å¡Ã�'â šÃ'½ minutes. Following in short order are

"Shoofly Pie," a slide-guitar rocker; "Pay Attention," a soaring gospel-style

number; and "Stumbled In," a sly ode to debauchery with the junkyard orchestra

sound of Tom Waits.


the guest contributions, the band is a trio at heart, and even that represents

an evolution from previous albums and tours. Several months before starting

work on the new release, the Wood Brothers made the strategic decision to add a

drummer to their standard live lineup.


until the last year or so, we'd really been just a duo, so even though our

earlier albums had some drums on them, we wrote and toured as just the two of

us, and the drummers were basically session drummers," Oliver explains. "We're

actually a three-piece band on the road now, and that's the way we recorded the

album, as we would play it live with three people. So I feel like this album is

more cohesive, in that it sounds like a band."


drummer in question was Tyler Greenwell, who has since been hired away by Derek

Trucks. Drummer Jano Rix is keeping time on the current tour. Chris sticks with

standup bass and harp, and Oliver divides his time between electric and

acoustic guitar.


another first for the band, Smoke Ring Halo was produced,

engineered and mixed by Jim Scott, known for his studio work with Wilco, Tom

Petty, Johnny Cash and a long list of rock, pop, metal and country acts since

the mid-'80s.

"He was

a real inspiration, a real old-school guy as far as technology goes," Oliver

says. "He's been through generations of music production and just knows

everything about it, and how to blend the old things with the new things. He

really understood what we were doing, and he understood what it was supposed to

sound like."

The two

Wood Brothers share songwriting credits on the album, and indeed their writing

process grows more collaborative as time goes on, Oliver says. He also notes

that the mood of the new disc is lighter their previous work, as exemplified by

the party atmosphere of the opening songs. The brothers' first album, he

recalls, was recorded in the wake of a divorce, and the second release followed

the death of their mother.


were really different times in my life and our lives," he says. "The writing

was a lot more serious and solemn. There's some of that on this new record, but

for me personally, I've been in a really good place the last couple years, so

it's just a different feeling."


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