by Kyle McCraw
Every so often, you stumble upon an album that is immediately indispensable. Such was my experience first hearing The Wood Brothers’ debut, “Ways Not to Lose,” and I was worried that their follow-up, “Loaded” would not live up to my high expectations. In a sense, it didn’t because this feels less like a blues record than the first. Regardless, “Loaded” is arguably the better album.
The brothers’ bluesy, soulful brand of Americana/roots music consists primarily of Oliver Wood on guitar and Chris Wood on upright bass, both of them contributing vocals (Oliver is the lead on all except “Don’t Look Back.”). Drums, organ, harmonica, violin, ukulele and banjo do creep in from time to time, but they never detract from the core of the music, which is the relationship between guitar and bass. Oliver’s time spent fronting blues band King Johnson and Chris’ experience as bassist of Medeski, Martin & Wood obviously help, but one has to think their family bond is just as important as there is such emotion in their playing. Moments like the instrumental section just before the last refrain on “Postcards from Hell,” where it’s hard to distinguish the guitar from the bass, are simply mesmerizing. They write beautiful songs, too – songs that can be both mournful and hopeful at the same time. There is a sense of sadness and loss, most likely due to the loss of their father while making the record, but they never wallow in it. The upbeat “Pray Enough” provides a nice antidote to the more mournful numbers, and the contemplative closer, “Still Close” exudes a sense of comfort through those kinds of losses.
In addition to their original songs on the record, the brothers turn in covers of Hendrix’s “Angel” and Dylan’s “Buckets of Rain” as well as the traditional “Make Me Down a Pallet on Your Floor,” making each song feel like their own and possibly besting the originals in the process. It’s a beautiful record.