The prolific songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Beth Wood delivers The Long Road, a studio album recorded mostly live at the Rye Room in Portland, OR. She has a collection on stories on these eleven tracks that embrace several themes, from breaking free of a relationship gone sour (the opening “Where I Go”) to redemption (“Painted Lines”) to both departure (“Leaving” co-written with Kim Richey) and caring (“Call When You Get Home”). Given the last track, a cover of Paul Simon’s “Slip Slidin’ Away.” The album is essentially about life’s many and sudden changes, and how we deal with them.
Wood uses a core trio where she plays acoustic guitar and sings while Milo Fultz handles the upright and electric bass and Jeremy Burchett the drums and percussion. Joining them are Anna Tivel (Telllco) on fiddle, Bryan Daste on pedal steel and vocalists Peter Mulvey, Ara Lee and Erin Flood Fortier. There are also contributions from guitarists Peter Perdichizzi and Greg Nestler organist Brandon Bush, pianist Nathan Alef and vocals from the folk/Americana duo of Reddy & Francine. Tyler Fortier produced and played multiple instruments. Erik and Valerie Berg-Johnson also appear on a few tracks.
It’s the combination of Wood’s soaring soprano and her gifts for melody and catchy hooks that stand out. There’s both an intimacy and honesty that rings through in these songs. “Where I Go” is a rollicking ride that Wood slows down for “One Shot,” one of her strongest vocals. The title track is also rather pensive and has spare accompaniment relative to several other tunes. A clear standout with its bouncy melody and singalong groove is “The Hard Way.” Another is the gorgeous “Heaven Only Knows” with Fortier on keys, The Berg-Johansens on fiddles, and Mai Bloomfield on cello. The varying of instruments and textures keeps the album especially engaging. Wood shows too that she can interpret a cover uniquely. Rather than relying on percussion and multiple strings as Simon did in his original, Wood opts has four vocalists join her to make it essentially a choral exercise.
Wood grew up in that hallowed ground of songwriters – Lubbock, TX but started on a different path than most that hail from there. She grew up studying classical music (including piano, harp, violin and voice). As her career has progressed, with this being her 11th album, she has formed a strong bond with her audience, using her gift for poetry to express common emotions that we all share from one time to another. She’s also won enough awards to comprise another whole paragraph.
One senses “the long road” still has plenty of miles to go. Wood sounds absolutely re-energized by this one by saying, “making this album was the fulfillment of a dream from start to finish. To be able to record at a beautiful studio in my hometown with the people I most wanted to work with; to record live and capture the magic we did in two days and then build upon it; to co-create a vision with my producer Tyler Fortier and then make it come true- all of these things felt like not just the culmination of twenty years of work, but a reward for it.”
There’s a lively and warm quality to this album that will lead to multiple listens.