By Hal Horowitz
An enthusiastic and joyous set exuding passion and capturing the almost spiritual connection that comes naturally to The Wood Brothers.
2. Heart is the Hero
3. Worst Pain of All
4. Far from Alone
5. Between the Beats
6. Line Those Pockets
7. Mean Man World
8. Rollin' On
9. Someone for Everyone
10. Kitchen Floor
Many roots groups claim to be collaborative efforts, but few can substantiate that assertion quite as convincingly as The Wood Brothers.
The trio, featuring the titular brothers along with multi-instrumentalist and “honorary sibling” Jano Rix, is not only jointly credited with writing the material on this, their eighth studio album, but co-producing and tracking everything (a few guest horns briefly appear) live in the studio as the cohesive collective they are.
It’s a major difference from 2020’s release where overdubbing was used extensively, partially because the members were all living close together in Nashville and had nearly unlimited hours to tweak each track. Since then though, bassist/vocalist Chris Wood relocated to Canada, narrowing the time he could allocate to the recording. But as the brothers’ legendary live shows prove, their ability to gel on stage is uncanny. So they tossed the computers and recorded 10 tracks in real time, directly to analog 16-track tape.
The limitations of this “old school” method created challenges, but the results prove the cliché that necessity is the mother of invention.
These predominantly acoustic pieces breathe with the idiosyncratic, easy flowing combination of folk, gospel, jazz, blues, country and pop that make The Wood Brothers’ music so insanely catchy and unique. That basic sound hasn’t changed. The lightly funky opening ‘Pilgrim’ sets the tone. Piano and drums (played simultaneously by the talented Rix), bass and guitar effortlessly mesh along with Oliver’s incomparable, unusual yet charmingly scratchy voice singing “Better slow down ‘cause soul can’t travel that fast”. There’s space and an openness that makes it seem the band is performing just for you.
The threesome typically crafts smooth, hum-able melodies, often with inscrutable albeit sing-along lyrics. But these songs feel more lived in and meticulously, yet never fussily, arranged conveying the almost spiritual connection that comes naturally to these guys.
From the snaking reggae rhythm imbued in ‘Line Those Pockets’ to the retro styled folk/pop ‘Worst Pain of All’ (one of a few Chris lead vocals), and the county tinged, melancholy winding through ‘Someone For Everyone’, where the lonely protagonist looks for someone to love as all three harmonize over a sweet melody enlivened by jaunty cowbell, this trinity gradually expands its sound while condensing their instrumentation.
The playing exudes passion, restrained exuberance and emotion. Oliver consolidates the talents of his outfit singing in the title track, just before Chris’ harmonica wails, “The heart is the hero of every song”.
It’s something The Wood Brothers prove once again in this classy, enthusiastic and joyous set.
Heart is the Hero is out on Friday 14th April via Honey Jar / Thirty Tigers. Read our full conversation with Olivier Wood ahead of the record's release here.