The Wood Brothers

The Muse

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The Wood Brothers are hard to pin down -- they play a sort of Americana version of jazz, or country with an edge, or folk with some rhythmic bite, or maybe secular gospel with a touch of swing. At their best, they create the best blend of vernacular American roots music since the Band folded, and while there are a lot of neo-Americana bands out there who critics keep claiming sound like the Band, well, these guys actually do. The Buddy Miller-produced The Muse is their fourth album, and while the previous three releases were pretty darn great, this one is arguably even better, a step forward into a fuller, rounder, and more complete sound, anchored, as always, by Chris Wood's wonderful acoustic basslines (his day job is playing bass for Medeski, Martin & Wood) and Oliver Wood's backwoods vocal style and sharp, literate songwriting skills. This album is a gem, opening with the best song yet by the Band that wasn't written or recorded by the Band, "Wastin' My Mind," and continuing the feel with "Neon Tombstone," "Honey Jar," "Sweet Maria" (a bit of folk cabaret, really), the barroom ballad shuffle "I Got Loaded," and the set closer, "Firewater," which comes complete with a boozy horn section that makes it sound like an outtake from the Band's Rock of Ages. The Wood Brothers aren't the second coming of the Band, of course (such a thing will most likely never happen), but they draw on the same wellspring of blues, gospel, folk, country, and R&B to arrive in a similar place, suggesting a rural America where myths are born and made real with music, a place where current fashion is useless, a place where a trip to the local juke for some backwoods jazzy honky tonk gospel blues is nigh near a trip to Heaven.

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