The Wood Brothers Loaded(2008, Blue Note Records)
The Wood Brothers—Atlanta guitarist/vocalist Oliver and Saugerties bassist Chris—are road-weary, bereft, and ranting. Which, apparently, makes for a great album. Following their freewheeling, live-in-the studio 2006 debut Ways Not to Lose, Loaded is the sound of a brother duo becoming greater than the sum of its parts. Recorded in the shadow of their mother’s recent passing, it’s both a lusty celebration of life and an emotionally and physically moving expression of loss. John Medeski—from Chris’s other gig, Medeski, Martin & Wood—is back as producer, and he’s deftly fleshed out the sound with subtle touches that add color without stealing focus.
Oliver’s grosgrain, vibratoless voice wraps around well-wrought lyrics that are by turns keen, deep, and wry. Warmly greeting the listener with the yearning gospel of “Lovin’ Arms,” that same voice will deliver the regret of the album’s title track and the wonder of love beyond life in “Still Close.” The secret funk weapon on Loaded is Chris’s versatile upright bass playing; the four-string veteran is without peer, providing harmonic underpinning that is felt as much as heard—here a dancing heartbeat, there a slap and tickle. Loaded’s three covers, the traditional “Make Me Down a Pallet on Your Floor,” Jimi Hendrix’s “Angel”—a duet with the bros’ Blue Note compadre Amos Lee—and Bob Dylan’s “Buckets of Rain” get interesting essays, but, remarkably, pale in comparison to the Wood originals, and are rightfully relegated to the back end of this impressive collection. Loaded indeed. www.thewoodbrothers.com.