Oliver Wood Keeps It Fresh, Loose & Positive On Solo Debut ‘Always Smilin’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Oliver Wood is hardly the only musician who made productive use of his time sequestered in COVID19 lockdown. But it’d be difficult to find results of such efforts that succeed so fully on their own terms and thus transcend the circumstances in which they were born. The forty-some minutes of Always Smilin’ represent a logical extension of Oliver Wood’s music over the course of his career.

It is all of a bigger piece with his extensive body of work as one of The Wood Bros, not to mention his earlier efforts in the group King Johnson Working ‘solo,’ perhaps it’s not wholly surprising tracks like the positive-minded “Kindness” radiate more of the quirky nature of his early works with his brother Chris than the more recent ones by the three-piece unit. Yet whereas the siblings restricted arrangements to basically what they could reproduce as a duo in concert on their debut Ways Not To Lose, the elder brother here allows himself the luxury of adding Ric Robertson’s Wurlitzer electric piano and gospel-tinged background vocals featuring Susan Tedeschi.

The peculiar but nonetheless charming air of that opener is even more pervasive on “Roots.”  Oliver again takes the opportunity to remind us how much his winsome and often tongue-in-cheek vocals remind of the late great Mac Rebennack, a/k/a Dr. John. Thus, it’s probably no coincidence Phil Madeira’s acoustic piano is so prominent there or that it’s followed by the comparably New Orleans-flavored leanings of “Get The Blues,” punctuated by Brook Sutton’s rousing tuba. The latter cut’s a purposely fitting setup to the acoustic-textures of “Came From Nothing,” just one song compelling the wish song lyrics were provided for the album (there is no booklet for same with the CD).

Recorded in his hometown of Nashville, Oliver co-produced with the aforementioned horn man (also the recording engineer), along with co-songwriter Phil Cook (“Soul of This Town”) and latter-day Wood Brothers bandmate Jano Rix. Yet for all the diversity of sounds, including scorching electric guitar on “Molasses,” the expert mix of Trina Shoemaker maintains a sonic continuity; the clarity of audio in itself is one of the great virtues of Always Smilin’, an attribute that over time will contribute to its durability almost as much as the earnest material and good-natured musicianship. 

“Fine Line” sounds like Oliver Wood at his most winning, equal parts upbeat, infectious, and expertly played and sung. It is, in fact, a benchmark from which to savor what’s familiar yet fresh in the context of this particular record. For instance, the gentle swoop of bottleneck guitar at the heart of “Face of Reason” suits the tune’s indirectly topical lyrics, further grounding this record in the post-pandemic world as we know it: the down-to-earth realism of the words sounds all the more stirring when heard as a cautionary tale about taking too much for granted.

Which only makes the near-solo intimacy of “Unbearable Heart” all the more of a statement of faith in the future. Ending this first solo album of his much as it began, with the gently rollicking “Climbing High Mountains (Tryin’ to Get Home),” Oliver Wood also offers a provocative footnote in the form of a hidden twelfth bonus track:  Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Needed Time” reinforces the impression that this man is writing, singing and playing like a role model for all those enlightened souls among us. 

 

Related Content

3 Responses

  1. The latter cut’s a purposely fitting setup to the acoustic-textures of “Came From Nothing,” just one song compelling the wish song lyrics were provided for the album (there is no booklet for same with the CD).

  2. The last option slice’s a deliberately fitting arrangement to the acoustic surfaces of “Came From Nothing,” only one tune convincing the wish melody verses were accommodated the collection (there is no booklet for same with the CD).

  3. This is so true – “Fine Line sounds like Oliver Wood at his most winning, equal parts upbeat, infectious, and expertly played and sung. It is, in fact, a benchmark from which to savor what’s familiar yet fresh in the context of this particular record.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Recent Posts

New to Glide

Keep up-to-date with Glide

Twitter