By: Alex Wood
For years now, The Wood Brothers have continued to reach new heights, a slow ascension both creatively and physically that has resulted in the best work and biggest shows of their career.
Though one might assume a misstep or fall from grace as inevitable, it simply doesn’t seem to be happening, with the trio’s newest album, One Drop of Truth, only pushing their music to new heights.
Recorded in a number of Nashville studios with multiple producers, the record sounds loose and relaxed, the songwriting as tight as ever while the musicianship continues to explore new territory.
All of the band’s established strengths are still present.
Album opener “River Takes The Town” is a loose, spacious folk song driven by Chris Wood’s upright bass, and wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the band’s beloved debut record, Ways Not To Lose.
“Happiness Jones” and “Sky High” feature the kind of funky, shuffling beat that makes audiences dance instantly in a live setting.
Why fix what isn’t broken, right?
Yet the greatest moments on One Drop of Truth are when the band experiments with new sounds and ideas.
“Strange As It Seems” is a delicate, finger-picked ballad that revolves solely around Oliver Wood’s weary vocals. Yet creaky, bowed bass noise, dissonant banjo, and single piano keys creep through the background, adding a hypnotizing layer that shows a confident growth in the band’s arrangements.
“Laughin’ Or Crying,” a definite highlight of the record, features an old-timey, New Orleans sound punctuated by punchy quarter-notes on bass, a massive electric-guitar sound adding a sinister feel fit for a dark barroom corner.
The sunny, Beatles-esque vocal harmonies of "Seasick Emotions," the jagged electric guitar solo in the title track, the deep funk of “Sparkling Wine,” the spoken, swaggering drawl of “Can’t Look Away” – these represent largely new directions the band successfully pursues without abandoning the limits of their established sound.
If the songs move constantly toward new and separate sounds, it’s the words that patch the entire record together, and the lyrics deserve praise in their own regard.
Most notably, water remains a motif, with rivers, rain, storms, hurricanes, teardrops and more popping up in nearly every song without sounding forced.
Thick imagery gives the songs a memorable sense of place, such as “one purple wildflower coming up from the dirt on the grave,” “crows kissing underneath the rainbow in Brooklyn,” or “the levee in Shreveport.”
Yet it’s the personal lyrics that hit the hardest.
“All the blue sky is gone / How can I get out of bed / This hurricane in my head / I’m just a boat in a storm / How can I know where to go / When everything I know / Is already lost in the wind,” Oliver sings on Seasick Emotion.
Modern yet timeless, The Wood Brothers continue to maintain an integral role as an anchor in the folk-rock genre, giving an often stale musical style a breath of fresh air and reminding people like myself what made us love the genre in the first place.
One Drop of Truth is available February 2, and the band will perform at The Vic April 13 and 14.. Watch the music video for “Happiness Jones” below.