The Wood Brothers – Paradise (ALBUM REVIEW)

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woodbrosalbumIn their decade together, The Wood Brothers have never made a bad record. Quite the contrary as each successive release has found them offering more finely-crafted material produced with a proportionately elevated sophistication. Paradise is another extension of that evolution.

And not just in the studio environs either. The Wood Brothers’ live shows in recent years, particularly since the addition of Jano Rix on percussion and vocals, have come to include more rocking blues-oriented numbers and “Singing to Strangers,” with Oliver’s coarse electric rhythm guitar and four-square drumming of Rix, is evidence of just such changes. “American Heartache” lies just on the threshold of that style, as the keen vocal harmonies and wailing harmonica courtesy Chris instantly recall the likes of earlier albums like Ways Not to Lose.

Even more so “Never and Always,” as it’s arranged to included stand-up bass, acoustic guitar and minimal drumming. Yet it’s indication of the Woods growth as musicians and recording artists—they produced Paradise by themselves—that the inclusion of Susan Tedeschi’s delicate background harmony, Derek Trucks’ exquisitely-detailed slide guitar and just the slightest touch of horns amplifies the rootsy intimacy of the song itself (like all the material here, written in various combinations by the trio).

In its insistent blues-derived changes, “Snakeyes” is a more uproarious, less contemplative example of same, the accompanying harmonies echoing the gospel influence that’s always been part of the Woods’ style, while the rolling organ lines emphasize the churchy atmosphere of the track. The sounds of the same keyboard instrument add to the bittersweet yearning of “Two Places,” as does the reappearance of trumpet and trombone, all of which echoes the winsome irony the Woods have always commanded in their original songs.

Comparatively short and to the point, like all ten tracks on Paradise, that recording emphasizes the musicianship of the Woods as they flesh out an economical arrangements, much as they do on “Heartbreak Lullaby,” without undue indulgence in redundant improvisation. Another cut reminiscent of previous efforts such as Loaded, the simplicity here is notable as it’s created by the two siblings and Rix without additional assistance. The most significant distinction of Paradise may, in fact, be the self-sufficiency the Wood Brothers demonstrate here, in combination with the savvy blend of wisdom and humility, that informs the enlistment of extra players: the wider ensemble featured on “Without Desire,” adds much to both its mood and meaning.

In turn, such expansion suggests room for development of the group’s live presentation especially as the quick segue to the muted yet witty “Raindrop” reaffirms  how both approaches can coexist. Along those very lines, the small touches of piano and vocals on “River of Sin,” as it concludes the record, supply the crowning touch to a record that’s equal parts recapitulation/reinvention of the certifiably great band that is The Wood Brothers.

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