Woods have made huge leaps forward with almost every album since their ramshackle beginnings as a stony folk collective. Their songs, always tuneful and hemmed with emotional push, had a tendency to get a little lost in the presentation on their earliest recordings, with songwriter Jeremy Earl's mournful tunes often disrupted by interjections of noise or sullied by murky production. The smoke was beginning to clear with 2009's Songs of Shame, though the band was still indulging in side-long jams and noisy sidesteps. Released in 2012, Bend Beyond stood as the clearest document of Woods to date, sounding like a streamlined update to '70s roots rockers like the Band, Dylan, or Neil Young when backed by Crazy Horse at their most ragged. With Light and With Love sharpens the focus even more, expanding the band's sonic toolbox and experimenting with more adventurous arrangements and studio trickery. The album still echoes the dusty country-rock vibrations of '70s FM radio Americana, but tends a little more toward touchstones of '60s psychedelia and sounds from the dawn of acid rock. Vocals pipe out of watery Leslie speakers in a trick borrowed from the Beatles, and the nine-minute-long title track begins with a single-chord groove, raga-styled guitar lines freaking out on top of the mix à la Sandy Bull or the Byrds. As the song stretches out, it dissolves into a space-brained jam of overdriven organs, driving bass, and all types of auxiliary percussion slowly creeping up in the mix. This type of instrumentation is brand new for Woods, who in their earlier days relied more on ghostly reverb than precisely organized instruments to flesh out their songs. More acoustic numbers fit in nicely among the sprawling jams and busier rockers. "Shepherd" is a straightforward slice of sad-eyed country, coming on like Comes a Time-era Neil Young, but soon filled out with honky tonk piano and glowing pedal steel. "Full Moon" borrows lovesick slide guitar leads from Derek & the Dominos. All of the reference points are just window dressing for the core songwriting that makes Woods stand out in their scene of freaky folksters. Without Earl's nasal falsetto singing lyrics of wonderment, wandering, healing, and hope, With Light and With Love would lack the heart that holds together its heightened performances. The album is easily the most solid offering from the Woods camp to date, besting even the production of its incredibly strong predecessor and presenting the songs with even more clarity and interesting choices than ever before.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas