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Published: 2008/03/23
by Randy Ray

Loaded – The Wood Brothers

Blue Note 50999 5 22000 2 1

Oh so appropriate that the second studio collaboration between brothers Chris and Oliver Wood was predominately recorded in Saugerties, New York, near Woodstock. The tunes echo the timeless, homegrown material crafted by Bob Dylan and The Band in another studio, a basement as it were, in the western part of that legendary old town. In a fine bit of era-jumpin’ cherry picking, the duo wrote “Don’t Look Back” (which features a sweet duet between brother Oliver and Frazie Ford), cover Dylan's "Buckets of Rain" (marking Chris's vocal debut), and give a '60s head nod to Jimi Hendrix’s “Angel,” for good measure. It is a crafted, focused collection of sharp modern blues and folk tunes called Loaded, a heavy word that is often tethered to the Velvet Underground legacy.

However, comparisons to those illustrious and well-trodden musical peaks aside, guitarist and vocalist Oliver Wood and acoustic bassist Chris Wood have crafted a sonic footprint while maintaining an individual voice that can write good songs outside of the glow of the pair's day jobs with Medeski, Martin & Wood and King Johnson, respectively.There are numerous highlights, but one only needs to float into the rich and languid atmosphere of “Fall Too Fast” to get a feel for the spirit of the record. A slow, hopeless romantic slice of confessional bliss, the song sounds like either Jim James or Reid Genauer fronting a band for an evening of tight acoustic storytelling. The song features David Mansfield on violin, Jennifer Choi on violin, David Egger on cello.

The Wood Brothers are accompanied on numerous tracks by some familiar namesJohn Medeski produced the record, as he did on the debut, Ways Not to Lose, and contributes organ, melodica and Wurlitzer on a trio of tracks. Billy Martin plays drums on two cuts, while Kenny Wolleson sits behind the kit on five others. Among the other musicians, Donnie McCormick plays chicken coop wires and lends vocals to “Make Me Down A Pallet On Your Floor,” which is a time-capsuled bit of back room field recording amped for the 21st century. Elsewhere, “Angel” is delivered with a near dub reggae vibe and works quite well in this framework. Singer-songwriter Amos Lee duets on the track with Oliver, providing a different shade to a very nice audio paintinga smooth counterpoint to Wood’s raw, emotional vocals. “Buckets of Rain” features the duo sans backing and manages to create a fresh idea with the Dylan classic by emphasizing the world-weariness and playfulness of the lyrics.

“Postcards from Hell,” a different take on the ancient “Crossroads”-meeting-with-the-devil yarn, offers a look into retaining one’s soul when all about demands that one could just take the easy way out and make that deal. Indeed, these cats don’t on these songs filled with dense beauty. “Pray Enough” solidifies that sentiment with a great Medeski organ run riding through the mix. With the passing of the brothers’ mother in 2007 in the rear view mirror — the spine of this musical tome, as it were — one feels the heavy weight of remorse in the back story to many of these tales. Those are the stories that always seem to last and one would think that these dozen cuts on Loaded will do the same as they dip into Americana while providing a new coat of paint on that old house of music just this side of the Big Pink in Saugerties.

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