The Wood Brothers

Live, Vol. 1: Sky High

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The Wood Brothers play a sort of Americana version of jazz, or country with an edge, or folk with some rhythmic bite, or maybe secular gospel that faces darkness with a wry and stubborn hopefulness. It's really hard to pin these guys down into a precise category. Chris Wood's tight, fluid, and always surprising basslines are a big part of why this group works, but so too are his brother Oliver Wood's songs, which are easygoing on the surface, but reveal sharply observed personal story lines that reach against odds toward ragged redemption. This live set features the duo with drummer Jano Rix and Clay Cook guesting on lap steel, and while these songs have already appeared on Wood Brothers releases, the live format shows just how sturdy and fluid this band actually is, and the songs seem to unfold and flow at the center of it all. "One More Day" has a gray-day feel, but the dogged hopefulness of having "one more day" makes this otherwise sad song into one of elegantly resigned joy. "Smoke Ring Halo" is a simply fascinating and charming song, framed perfectly by Chris Wood's bass and Rix's sparse, precise drumming. Oliver Wood's droll, offhand, and sometimes fragile singing style fits his songs perfectly, and when he sings "Don't let the angels take your smoke ring halo," it's obvious how good a songwriter he is. "Stumbled In," a song about literally stumbling into Heaven, is another gem, part country, part gospel, part honky tonk jazz, and the band pulls it all off with sparse sharpness. At times the Wood Brothers sound like a stripped-down alt-folk version of the Band, or maybe the perfect opening act for Tom Waits, and captured live, Chris Wood's stunning basslines and Oliver Wood's quietly brilliant songs take everything into some pretty interesting and refreshing territory. This is Vol. 1, so more live material is still on its way. Undoubtedly it will further reveal what a fine little band this is.

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