Category: Americana

Cf Watkins is a North Carolina-born, Nashville-based Americana/pop singer/songwriter, who spent the past the past nine years living in Brooklyn, before relocating to Nashville last month. Performing since she was 14, she has shared stages with an impressive array of acts including Langhorne Slim, Futurebirds, Chatham County Line, Wilder Maker, Lowland Hum and Alpenglow while developing a sound and approach that draws from her North Carolina roots.

2016 saw the release of Daniel Goans-produced full-length debut I Am New, was recorded at White Star Sound, as well as the attention-grabbing single “Frances and Jack.” Watkins’ latest album, the Max Hart-produced Babygirl portrays its creator growing both as a person and as an artist. “When I think about my last album, I feel I was writing songs about weakness,” Watkins says. “With this album, I made a conscious effort to write songs about the power of choosing yourself.” Thematically, the album touches upon empowerment while being both a coming of age story and an ode to female friendship. “Romances have come in and out of my life, but through it all, the relationships that continue to open my heart the most are grounded in the women I’ve known,” says Watkins. “This is an album meant for other women to hear — with songs that are both vulnerable and powerful.”

Babygirl‘s latest single, album title track “Babygirl” is an unfussy yet slickly produced song that further establishes the rising North Carolina-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter’s pop-leaning take on Americana. Centered around jangling guitars, fluttering flute a soaring hook and Watkins’ expressive and gorgeous vocals, “Babygirl” reminds me a bit of Nicki Bluhm and S.G. Goodman — but while being an achingly tender declaration of devotion and fidelity to a dear friend; a devotion that’s deeper than even romantic love. “I wanted to honor my female friends and honor the beauty of female friendship– the romance and freedom of female friendship,” Watkins says. “To me, that feels like the ultimate love.”

Portland, OR-based The Parson Red Heads — currently Evan Way (guitar, vocals), Brette Marie Way (drums, vocals), Robbie Augspurger (bass), Raymond Richards (multi-instrumentalist, production), the band’s newest member Jake Smith (guitar) and a rotating cast of friends, collaborators and associates — can trace their origins back to when its founding members met while attending college in Eugene OR back in 2004, studying for degrees that as the band’s Evan Way once joked “never used or even completed.” 

The members of the then newly formed Parson Red Heads spent the next year writing songs and rehearsing constantly. “We would rehearse in the living room of my house for hours and hours until my roommates would be driven crazy — writing songs and playing them over and over again, and generally having as much fun as a group of people can have,” Way fondly recalls. “We weren’t sure if we were very good, but we were sure that there was a special bond growing between us, a chemistry that you didn’t find often.”

In 2006, the band relocated to Los Angeles, with the hopes that they would take music seriously and become a real band. The members of the band moved into and shared a one bedroom apartment in West Los Angeles. “Eventually the population of our 1 bedroom ballooned to 7 — all folks who played in our band at that point, too,” Way says of the band’s early days in Southern California. The Parson Red Heads quickly became mainstays in a growing, 60s-inspired folk and psych folk scene primarily based in Los Angeles’ Silverlake and Echo Park sections. “We played every show we could lay our collective hands on, which turned out to be a lot of shows. We must have played 300+ shows in our first two years in L.A.  . . . . We practiced non-stop and wrote a ton of songs, and eventually recorded our debut album King Giraffe at a nice little studio in Sunland, with the help of our friends Zack and Jason,” Way recalls.

After the release of King Giraffe, The Parson Red Heads spent the next three years writing new material and touring, which eventually resulted in their sophomore album, 2011’s Yearling. The album was partially recorded at Los Angeles-based studio Red Rockets Glare with Raymond Richards, who had then joined the band to play pedal steel and in North Carolina at Fidelitorium with The dB’s Chris Stamey. After finishing the album, the members of the band decided to quit their day jobs and give up their apartments to go on a lengthy tour with their friends Cotton Jones. After the tour was completed, they relocated to Portland. 

With their first two albums, the band had developed a reputation for performing an uninhabited live show, in which they could easily morph from earnest folk to ass-kicking rock anthems with their sound and approach being inspired by The ByrdsTeenage FanclubBig StarCrosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Jackson Browne. Interestingly, with the band’s third album 2013’s Orb Weaver, the band desired to capture the energy and sound of their live sound.  “We’re always made records that were more thought-out,” Way says of Orb Weaver

2017’s Blurred Harmony found the JOVM mainstays actively intending to do things much differential than their previously released work — with the band recording and tracking themselves. They would set up drums and amps and furiously record Blurred Harmony‘s material after everyone put their kids to sleep, finishing that day’s session before it got too late. And as a result, Way says  “the record is more a true part of us than any record we have made before — we put ourselves into it, made ourselves fully responsible for it. Even the themes of the songs are more personal than ever — it’s an album dealing with everything that has come before. It’s an album about nostalgia, about time, change, about the hilarious, wonderful, bittersweet, sometimes sad, always incredible experience of living. Sometimes it is about regret or the possibility of regret. These are big topics, and to us, it is a big album, yet somehow still intimate and honest.”

After the release of Blurred Harmony, the band’s founding member Sam Fowles left the band, and the members of the band were forced to ask themselves tough questions about both the future of the band and its creative direction. The remaining founding members recruited touring guitarist Jake Smith to join the band full-time, and then they decided to approach any new material with a completely new lens. Slated for a November 13, 2020 release through their longtime label homes Fluff and Gravy Records across North America and You Are The Cosmos across Europe, The Parson Red Heads’ fifth album Lifetime of Comedy reportedly finds the band excavating the bedrock of their well-honed sound and allowing it to be remolded. While remaining a quintessentially Parson Red Heads album, the material as Way contends in press notes are the most collaborative they’ve written and recorded to date. 

Initially starting the recording of Lifetime of Comedy earlier this year, The Parson Red Heads quickly found themselves and their plans in limbo as a result of pandemic-related lockdowns and quarantines. And once studios could reopen, sessions continued at a snail’s place for small, very intimate sessions. With the material being recorded in a delicate, touch and go period, the album’s material seems to be deeply informed by a sense of perseverance and hope. 

Earlier this month, I wrote about “All I Wanted,” Lifetime of Comedy‘s first single was classic Parson Red Heads — a breezy yet carefully and thoughtfully crafted song centered around shimmering guitars, twangy steel pedal. rousing sing-a-long choruses, saccharine bursts of multi-part harmonies, Evan Way’s plaintive vocals and incredibly earnest lyricism, born of lived-in experiences. And while superficially sounding as though it could have easily been part of the Blurred Harmony sessions, the track possessed a subtly free-flowing, jammier vibe, that evokes the sensation of longtime friends creating something new with a revitalized sense of togetherness. Interestingly, Lifetime of Comedy‘s second and latest single “Turn Around” is a shimmering and heartfelt declaration of devotion but unlike its predecessor, it sound as though it were influenced by classic 80s and early 90s jangle pop, complete with soaring organs. It’s the sort of sweet and timeless love song that’s deceptively simple yet absolutely necessary. Sometimes all that ever needs to be said to our loved ones is “I’ll be always there.”

“‘Turn Around’ started as a lot of the songs I’ve been writing these days do – as a half-jibberish sung melody line, sung into my phone’s voice memo while driving,” The Parson Red Heads’ frontman Evan Way explains in press notes. “It stayed in that form for a good year before I found it, dusted it off, and brought it to the band. This song is a testament to the strength of the bands collaborative writing on this album. Everyone’s parts are so integral to the song’s small and simple beauty. It’s a simple love song, the lyrics a statement of devotion – in many ways, it is like a classic old Parson Red Heads song, in both theme and sound, but it has this element of The La’s or The Charlatans in it that I just love. And Raymond (Richards, multi-instrumentalist and producer) was able to help us get such a great mix of guitar sounds, 12-strings, Nashville strung electric – a great balance of being lush without being over-crowded.”  

Portland, OR-based The Parson Red Heads — currently Evan Way (guitar, vocals), Brette Marie Way (drums, vocals), Robbie Augspurger (bass), Raymond Richards (multi-instrumentalist, production), the band’s newest member Jake Smith (guitar) and a rotating cast of friends, collaborators and associates — can trace their origins back to when its founding members met while attending college in Eugene OR back in 2004, studying for degrees that as the band’s Evan Way once joked “never used or even completed.”

The members of the then newly formed Parson Red Heads spent the next year writing songs and rehearsing constantly. “We would rehearse in the living room of my house for hours and hours until my roommates would be driven crazy — writing songs and playing them over and over again, and generally having as much fun as a group of people can have,” Way fondly recalls. “We weren’t sure if we were very good, but we were sure that there was a special bond growing between us, a chemistry that you didn’t find often.”

In 2006, the band relocated to Los Angeles, with the hopes that they would take music seriously and become a real band. The members of the band moved into and shared a one bedroom apartment in West Los Angeles. “Eventually the population of our 1 bedroom ballooned to 7 — all folks who played in our band at that point, too,” Way says of the band’s early days in Southern California. The Parson Red Heads quickly became mainstays in a growing, 60s-inspired folk and psych folk scene primarily based in Los Angeles’ Silverlake and Echo Park sections. “We played every show we could lay our collective hands on, which turned out to be a lot of shows. We must have played 300+ shows in our first two years in L.A.  . . . . We practiced non-stop and wrote a ton of songs, and eventually recorded our debut album King Giraffe at a nice little studio in Sunland, with the help of our friends Zack and Jason,” Way reminisces.

After the release of King Giraffe, The Parson Red Heads spent the next three years writing new material and touring, which eventually resulted in their sophomore album, 2011’s Yearling. The album was partially recorded at Los Angeles-based studio Red Rockets Glare with Raymond Richards, who had then joined the band to play pedal steel and in North Carolina at Fidelitorium with The dB’s Chris Stamey. After finishing the album, the members of the band decided to quit their day jobs and give up their apartments to go on a lengthy tour with their friends Cotton Jones. After the tour was completed, they would relocate to Portland.

Simultaneously, the band had developed a reputation for performing an uninhabited live show, in which they could easily morph from earnest folk to ass-kicking rock anthems with their sound and approach being inspired by The ByrdsTeenage FanclubBig StarCrosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Jackson Browne. Interestingly, with the band’s third album 2013’s Orb Weaver, the band desired to capture the energy and sound of their live sound.  “We’re always made records that were more thought-out,” Way says of Orb Weaver.

The Portland-based band’s fourth album, 2017’s Blurred Harmony found the band actively intending to do things differently than they did on their previously released work — with them and recording and tracking themselves: frequently, they would set up drums ad amps and furiously record Blurred Harmony‘s material after everyone put their kids to sleep, finishing that day’s session before it got too late. And as a result, Way says  “the record is more a true part of us than any record we have made before — we put ourselves into it, made ourselves fully responsible for it. Even the themes of the songs are more personal than ever — it’s an album dealing with everything that has come before. It’s an album about nostalgia, about time, change, about the hilarious, wonderful, bittersweet, sometimes sad, always incredible experience of living. Sometimes it is about regret or the possibility of regret. These are big topics, and to us, it is a big album, yet somehow still intimate and honest.”

After the release of Blurred Harmony, the band’s founding member Sam Fowles left the band — and the members of the band were forced to ask themselves tough questions about both the future of the band and its creative direction. The remaining founding members recruited their touring Jake Smith to join the band full-time, and then they decided to approach any new material with a completely new lens. Slated for a November 13, 2020 release through their longtime label homes Fluff and Gravy Records across North America and You Are The Cosmos across Europe, The Parson Red Heads’ fifth album Lifetime of Comedy reportedly finds the band excavating the bedrock of their well-honed sound and allowing it to be remolded. While remaining a quintessentially Parson Red Heads album, the material as Way contends in press notes are the most collaborative they’ve written and recorded to date.

Initially starting the recording of Lifetime of Comedy earlier this year, The Parson Red Heads quickly found themselves and their plans in limbo as a result of pandemic-related lockdowns and quarantines. And once studios could reopen, sessions continued at a snail’s place for small, very intimate sessions. With the material being recorded in a delicate, touch and go period, the album’s material seems to be deeply informed by a sense of perseverance and hope.

“All I Wanted,” Lifetime of Comedy‘s first single is classic Parson Red Heads — breezy yet careful and thoughtfully crafted song centered around shimmering guitars, twangy steel pedal, rousing sing–a-long choruses, saccharine bursts of multi-part harmonies, Evan Way’s plaintive falsetto and incredibly earnest lyricism, born of lived-in experiences. And while superficially sounding as though it could have easily been part of the Blurred Harmony sessions, the track manages to possess a subtle free-flowing, jammier vibe. If you pay close attention, you can literally feel longtime friends creating something with a revitalized sense of togetherness.

Featuring a regretful and brokenhearted narrator, “All I Wanted” thematically is full of the hindsight and regret of someone looking back at the past — their past selves, their past mistakes and misgivings — and wishing that there was some way that they could undo it, so that they could remain in a relationship that they desperately prized above everything else. And yet, there’s a tacit recognition that while you may pine for the past, you can’t ever get it back. In fact, life does what it always does — pushes and forces you forward.

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New Video: JOVM Mainstays The Wood Brothers Release a Nostalgic and Wistful Video for “Little Bit Sweet”

Over the better part of the past year, I’ve written quite a bit about the acclaimed folk/roots/Americana act and JOVM mainstays The Wood Brothers. And as you may recall, the act which is comprised of  Boulder, CO-born and currently Nashville-based siblings Chris Wood (upright bass, electric bass, vocals) and Oliver Wood (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, vocals), and multi-instrumentalist Jano Rix, can trace some of the of origins of the act and their musical careers to when Chris and Oliver were children: Their father, a molecular biologist, frequently performed old folk and roots music songs at family gatherings and campfires and their mother, a poet, instilled a passion for storytelling and turn of phrase.  As children and teens, they bonded over a mutual love of bluesmen like Jimmy Reed and Lightinn’ Hopkins; however, as they got older, their musical and professional paths would wildly diverge.

When they were young men, Oliver Wood relocated to Atlanta, where he picked up gigs in playing guitar in a number of local cover bands before landing a spot in Tinsley Ellis‘ backing band. At Ellis’ behest Oliver Wood began to sing — and shortly after that, he founded King Johnson, a hard-touring band that released six albums of blues-tinged R&B, funk and country over the next 12 years of his life. Meanwhile, Chris Wood studied jazz bass at the New England Conservatory of Music, and upon graduation relocated to New York where he co-founded the critically applauded Medeski Martin & Wood (MMW), an act that quickly became one of the stalwarts of the ’90s downtown New York jazz and experimental music scenes.

After pursuing separate and rather disparate musical careers for close to two decades, Oliver’s King Johnson and Chris’ Martin Medeski and Wood played on the same bill at a North Carolina show. During Martin Medeski and Wood’s set, Oliver sat in with his brother’s band. And as the story goes, the brothers instantly realized that they needed to be playing music together. Shortly after that set, the brothers recorded a batch of Oliver’s songs, which channeled the shared musical heroes of their youth while showcasing their own individual strengths — Oliver’s songwriting and Chris’ forward-thinking, adventurous musicianship. An early batch of demos landed The Wood Brothers a deal with Blue Note Records, who released their 2006 John Medeski-produced debut, Ways Not To Lose, a critically applauded effort that was Amazon.com’s editors’ number 1 pick for folk and made NPR’s “Overlooked 11” list.

Building upon a buzz-worthy profile, the act released 2008’s Loaded and 2009’s covers EP, Up Above My Head before moving on to Nashville’s Southern Ground Artists, who released 2011’s Smoke Ring Halo, 2012’s Live Volume One: Sky High and Live Volume Two: Nail and Tooth and 2013’s Buddy Miller-produced The Muse. Shortly after the release of The Muse, the members of the trio relocated to Nashville, marking the first time that Chris and Oliver Wood have lived in the same city in several decades. 2015’s Paradise was the first album in which all three members of the band shared songwriting credits, as they were all in the same city to work on and refine material. They followed that up with another live album, 2017’s Live at the Barn.

Last year, I caught the acclaimed trio at The Vic Theatre in Chicago, during their tour to support their sixth, full-length album, the self-produced and recorded One Drop of Truth. And although at the time, I wasn’t familiar with them before the set, they proved their reputation for being one of the best touring bands in contemporary music to me during that set. Now, as you may recall, earlier this year, the acclaimed Nashville-based trio released another live album, Live at the Fillmore, which was recorded over the course of a two night stand at San Francisco’s historic music venue. The album further cemented their long-held reputation for live shows centered around performances that defy easy categorization — their delivery seems to lives at the intersection of arena rock energy and small theater intimacy, all while blurring the lines between folk, rock, blues, soul, funk and Americana. In between a busy touring schedule, the trio found the time to write and record the highly-anticipated follow-up to One Drop of Truth, Kingdom In My Mind.

Throughout the band’s history together, the trio’s creative process would generally begin with the band writing songs before they got to the studio and then deliberately set out to record them. However, Kingdom In My Mind found the band beginning the process of writing and recording without initially realizing it: When they started, they all thought they were just simply breaking in and test driving their new Nashville recording studio/rehearsal space by tracking a series of extended, instrumental jam sessions.

“If we had known we were making a record, we probably would have been too self-conscious to play what we played,” Chris Wood reflects on the writing and recording process of their forthcoming album. “At the time, we just thought we were jamming to break in our new studio, so we felt free to explore all these different ways of playing together without worrying about form or structure. It was liberating.”

“We weren’t performing songs,” Oliver adds. “We were just improvising and letting the music dictate everything. Somebody would start playing, and then we’d all jump into the groove with them and see where it went. Normally when recording, you’re thinking about your parts and your performances, but with these sessions, we were just reacting to each other and having fun in the moment.”

After listening to their jams, the members of the band realized that they captured something undeniably alive and uninhibited. Much like a sculptor, Chris Wood took those sprawling improvised recordings and began to carefully chisel out verses, choruses, bridges and solos until distinctive songs began to take shape. From there, the band divvied up the material that spoke to them most and began writing lyrics both separately and together.

Thematically the album is an extensive meditation and reckoning with circumstance, mortality and human nature centered around vivid, almost novelistic character studies and unflinching self-examination. The material’s cast of characters all attempt to find strength and solace in accepting what lies beyond our limited control, ultimately pondering how we find contentment and peace in a confusing, chaotic and frightening world. “We all have these little kingdoms inside of our minds,” the band’s Chris Wood says in press notes.  “And without really planning it out, the songs on this album all ended up exploring that idea in some way or another. They look at the ways we deal with our dreams and our regrets and our fears and our loves. They look at the stories we tell ourselves and the ways we balance the darkness and the light.”

But while the lyrics dig into deep philosophical territory, the arrangements draw from a broad sonic and stylistic spectrum. Earlier this year, I wrote about the slow-burning, Dr. John/New Orleans-like jazz ballad “Alabaster,” a song centered around an empathetic portrait of a woman, who has broken free of her old life and relocated far away for a much-needed fresh start. And while featuring an incredibly novelistic attention to detail, the song manages to feel improvised yet simultaneously crafted. Kingdom In My Mind‘s second single was the slow-burning country blues “Cry Over Nothing,” a meditation on the ego, perspective and fate told with a playfully fatalistic sensibility. Sometimes, even the sky is against you — and there ain’t a thing you can do about it.

The album’s third and latest single “Little Bit Sweet” interestingly enough features soTme of the album’s first bit of improvised instrumentation from those early jam sessions. Centered around a bouncy bass line and shimmering guitars, the song is part old-timey lament and part world-weary sigh focusing on mortality, the passing of time and getting older, and the impermanent nature of all things — especially love. And yet through the tears and heartache, there’s a sense of acceptance and awe of the things that the song’s narrator can’t understand. It just is — and sometimes it’s weird and wonderful because of that.

The recently released video created by Austin, TX-based artist Gary Dorsey combines old-timey collage-based lamination and live band performance footage that manages to emphasizes the wistful and world-weary nostalgia of the song. “Lyrically the song speaks to the yins and yangs of love—every kind of love,” The Wood Brothers’ Oliver Wood explains. “How the value and preciousness of love is matched by its fragility and fleetingness. The images in the lyrics are from personal experiences, and the connected feelings should feel pretty universal.”

Gary Dorsey adds: “As I listened to ‘Little Bit Sweet,’ I felt an overwhelming sense of nostalgia. I was taken back to my grandparent’s house, memories of climbing trees, playing in the tool shed, and the smell of old oil cans. For the video, I wanted to relate the beauty of those memories and how safe all of that felt for me, that feeling of the people that you love watching over you throughout your life. I hope that I’m taking the viewer on a journey that reminds them of those younger days and family memories, reminds them of the loved ones that may have already left this life, and perhaps brings back a bit of that childhood wonder we all wish that we could get back.”

Steve Smith (guitar, vocals) is a Sydney, Australia-based singer/songwriter and guitarist, who has earned a reputation for crafting a good tune, abrupt disappearances at inopportune times and for pulling together some of his hometown’s finest musicians and producers to bring his songs to life, writing and recording five albums with Fallon Cush — 2011’s self-titled debut, which introduced the band’s signature breezy and jangling 70s AM rock-like sound; 2012’s April, which premiered on American Songwriter; 2016’s Bee In Your Bonnet, which revealed a tougher alt-country leaning song and led to the band opening for Son Volt; and 2017’s Morning, which reportedly threatened the band’s future. “By the time we’d finished the last record, Morning, I thought that’d be the end of it. It was really quite difficult getting that record finished for a number of reasons,” Steve Smith says in press notes.

Produced by the band’s Steve Smith, the band’s latest album Stranger Things Have Happened was released last November through the band’s Lightly Toasted Records and was recorded and mixed at Endomusia Studios, near Australia’s Blue Mountains by Josh Schuberth with additional recording by Michael Carpenter at Love Hz Studios in Sydney. Featuring a backing band consisting of Suzy Goodwin (backing vocals), Casey Atkins (guitar, backing vocals), Tim Bryon (keys), Peter Marley (bass, backing vocals), Russell Crawford (drums) and Josh Schuberth (lap steel, percussion), the album’s material finds the members of the backing band drawing from a wider sonic palette while continuing to display Smith’s unerring knack for crafting a tunes that frequently get compared to Tom Petty, Ryan Adams, Wilco and The Jayhawks among others. “This record feels like a bit of a fresh start, there’s an energy around it. It’s a good feeling. Strange but good,” Smith says about the new album

Stranger Things Have Happened‘s latest single is the bittersweet “The Key.” Centered around shimmering and jangling guitars, razor sharp hooks and earnest, a twangy guitar solo and 70s AM rock-like songwriting, “The Key” is the sort of song you’d expect to hear late at night in darkened dive bar or old-timey honky tonk: the song captures a ruminative sense of regret over the mistakes and failures of one’s life — and how they manage to reverberate in your life as time passes. As the band says in a statement, the song “features Casey Atkins’ twangy lead guitar throughout. Casey’s a renowned and in-demand player in Sydney, and an integral part of our sound. His parts on this were his first pass. When it came to the mix, we didn’t bother looking for any other takes.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Audio: The Wood Brothers Return with a Zydeco-Tinged Meditation on Love and the Balance Between Darkness and Light

Last year, I spilled quite a bit of virtual ink covering the acclaimed folk/roots/Americana act and JOVM mainstays The Wood Brothers. Now, as you may recall, I caught the acclaimed trio at The Vic Theatre in Chicago, while they were touring to support their sixth, full-length album, 2018’s self-produced and recorded One Drop of Truth. At the time, I wasn’t familiar with them but their Vic Theatre set was so impressive that I quickly became a fan. 

Last year, the Nashville-based trio released another live album Live at the Fillmore, which further cemented their long-held reputation for live shows centered around performances that defy categorization: their delivery often seem to live at the intersection of arena rock energy and small theater intimacy, while boldly blurring the lines between folk, rock, blues, soul, funk, roots music, alt-country and Americana among other things. During a busy touring schedule, the trio found the time to write and record the highly-anticipated follow-up to One Drop of Truth, Kingdom In My Mind.

Throughout the band’s history together, the trio’s creative process would generally begin with the band writing songs before they got to the studio and then deliberately set out to record them. However, Kingdom In My Mind found the band beginning the process of writing and recording without initially realizing it: When they started, they all thought they were just simply breaking in and test driving their new Nashville recording studio/rehearsal space by tracking a series of extended, instrumental jam sessions.

“If we had known we were making a record, we probably would have been too self-conscious to play what we played,” Chris Wood reflects on the writing and recording process of their forthcoming album. “At the time, we just thought we were jamming to break in our new studio, so we felt free to explore all these different ways of playing together without worrying about form or structure. It was liberating.”

“We weren’t performing songs,” Oliver adds. “We were just improvising and letting the music dictate everything. Somebody would start playing, and then we’d all jump into the groove with them and see where it went. Normally when recording, you’re thinking about your parts and your performances, but with these sessions, we were just reacting to each other and having fun in the moment.”

After listening to their jams, the members of the band realized that they captured something undeniably alive and uninhibited. Much like a sculptor, Chris Wood took those sprawling improvised recordings and began to carefully chisel out verses, choruses, bridges and solos until distinctive songs began to take shape. From there, the band divvied up the material that spoke to them most and began writing lyrics both separately and together.

Thematically the album is an extensive meditation and reckoning with circumstance, mortality and human nature centered around vivid, almost novelistic character studies and unflinching self-examination. The material’s cast of characters all attempt to find strength and solace in accepting what lies beyond our limited control, ultimately pondering how we find contentment and peace in a confusing, chaotic and frightening world. “We all have these little kingdoms inside of our minds,” the band’s Chris Wood says in press notes.  “And without really planning it out, the songs on this album all ended up exploring that idea in some way or another. They look at the ways we deal with our dreams and our regrets and our fears and our loves. They look at the stories we tell ourselves and the ways we balance the darkness and the light.”

But while the lyrics dig into deep philosophical territory, the arrangements draw from a broad sonic and stylistic spectrum. Last year, I wrote about the slow-burning, Dr. John/New Orleans-like jazz ballad “Alabaster,” a song centered around an empathetic portrait of a woman, who has broken free of her old life and relocated far away for a much-needed fresh start. And while featuring an incredibly novelistic attention to detail, the song manages to feel improvised yet simultaneously crafted. Kingdom In My Mind‘s second single was the slow-burning country blues “Cry Over Nothing,” a meditation on the ego, perspective and fate told with a playfully fatalistic sensibility. Sometimes, even the sky is against you — and there ain’t a thing you can do about it. The album’s third single “Little Bit Sweet” was centered around some of the material’s first batch of improvised instrumentation from the early jam sessions that birthed it. Centered around a bouncy bass line and shimmering guitars, the song is part old-timey lament and part world-weary sigh focusing on mortality, the passing of time and getting older, and the impermanent nature of all things. And yet through the tears and heartache, there’s a sense of acceptance and awe of the things that the song’s narrator can’t understand. It just is — and sometimes it’s wonderful because of that.

The Wood Brothers begin the new year with Kingdom in My Mind’s fourth and latest single, the zydeco-tinged stomp “The One I Love” is a meditation on love, and the search for the balance between darkness and light. The song seems to suggest that balance can be found in something seemingly small yet so very vital to all of us — those we love. When our world seems so bleak, so uncertain and so devoid of hope or kindness, we should all take comfort and solace in hopefully having someone who loves and supports us, who will be by our side. It may be rare but man, when we find it, it’s special. 

New Audio: JOVM Mainstays The Wood Brothers Release a Bittersweet Meditation on Mortality

Over the better part of the past year, I’ve written quite a bit about the acclaimed folk/roots/Americana act and JOVM mainstays The Wood Brothers. And as you may recall, the act which is comprised of  Boulder, CO-born and currently Nashville-based siblings Chris Wood (upright bass, electric bass, vocals) and Oliver Wood (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, vocals), and multi-instrumentalist Jano Rix, can trace some of the of origins of the act and their musical careers to when Chris and Oliver were children: Their father, a molecular biologist, frequently performed old folk and roots music songs at family gatherings and campfires and their mother, a poet, instilled a passion for storytelling and turn of phrase.  As children and teens, they bonded over a mutual love of bluesmen like Jimmy Reed and Lightinn’ Hopkins; however, as they got older, their musical and professional paths would wildly diverge.

When they were young men, Oliver Wood relocated to Atlanta, where he picked up gigs in playing guitar in a number of local cover bands before landing a spot in Tinsley Ellis‘ backing band. At Ellis’ behest Oliver Wood began to sing — and shortly after that, he founded King Johnson, a hard-touring band that released six albums of blues-tinged R&B, funk and country over the next 12 years of his life. Meanwhile, Chris Wood studied jazz bass at the New England Conservatory of Music, and upon graduation relocated to New York where he co-founded the critically applauded Medeski Martin & Wood (MMW), an act that quickly became one of the stalwarts of the ’90s downtown New York jazz and experimental music scenes.

After pursuing separate and rather disparate musical careers for close to two decades, Oliver’s King Johnson and Chris’ Martin Medeski and Wood played on the same bill at a North Carolina show. During Martin Medeski and Wood’s set, Oliver sat in with his brother’s band. And as the story goes, the brothers instantly realized that they needed to be playing music together. Shortly after that set, the brothers recorded a batch of Oliver’s songs, which channeled the shared musical heroes of their youth while showcasing their own individual strengths — Oliver’s songwriting and Chris’ forward-thinking, adventurous musicianship. An early batch of demos landed The Wood Brothers a deal with Blue Note Records, who released their 2006 John Medeski-produced debut, Ways Not To Lose, a critically applauded effort that was Amazon.com’s editors’ number 1 pick for folk and made NPR’s “Overlooked 11” list.

Building upon a buzz-worthy profile, the act released 2008’s Loaded and 2009’s covers EP, Up Above My Head before moving on to Nashville’s Southern Ground Artists, who released 2011’s Smoke Ring Halo, 2012’s Live Volume One: Sky High and Live Volume Two: Nail and Tooth and 2013’s Buddy Miller-produced The Muse. Shortly after the release of The Muse, the members of the trio relocated to Nashville, marking the first time that Chris and Oliver Wood have lived in the same city in several decades. 2015’s Paradise was the first album in which all three members of the band shared songwriting credits, as they were all in the same city to work on and refine material. They followed that up with another live album, 2017’s Live at the Barn.

Last year, I caught the acclaimed trio at The Vic Theatre in Chicago, during their tour to support their sixth, full-length album, the self-produced and recorded One Drop of Truth. And although at the time, I wasn’t familiar with them before the set, they proved their reputation for being one of the best touring bands in contemporary music to me during that set. Now, as you may recall, earlier this year, the acclaimed Nashville-based trio released another live album, Live at the Fillmore, which was recorded over the course of a two night stand at San Francisco’s historic music venue. The album further cemented their long-held reputation for live shows centered around performances that defy easy categorization — their delivery seems to lives at the intersection of arena rock energy and small theater intimacy, all while blurring the lines between folk, rock, blues, soul, funk and Americana. In between a busy touring schedule, the trio found the time to write and record the highly-anticipated follow-up to One Drop of Truth, Kingdom In My Mind.

Throughout the band’s history together, the trio’s creative process would generally begin with the band writing songs before they got to the studio and then deliberately set out to record them. However, Kingdom In My Mind found the band beginning the process of writing and recording without initially realizing it: When they started, they all thought they were just simply breaking in and test driving their new Nashville recording studio/rehearsal space by tracking a series of extended, instrumental jam sessions. 

“If we had known we were making a record, we probably would have been too self-conscious to play what we played,” Chris Wood reflects on the writing and recording process of their forthcoming album. “At the time, we just thought we were jamming to break in our new studio, so we felt free to explore all these different ways of playing together without worrying about form or structure. It was liberating.”

“We weren’t performing songs,” Oliver adds. “We were just improvising and letting the music dictate everything. Somebody would start playing, and then we’d all jump into the groove with them and see where it went. Normally when recording, you’re thinking about your parts and your performances, but with these sessions, we were just reacting to each other and having fun in the moment.”

After listening to their jams, the members of the band realized that they captured something undeniably alive and uninhibited. Much like a sculptor, Chris Wood took those sprawling improvised recordings and began to carefully chisel out verses, choruses, bridges and solos until distinctive songs began to take shape. From there, the band divvied up the material that spoke to them most and began writing lyrics both separately and together.

Thematically the album is an extensive meditation and reckoning with circumstance, mortality and human nature centered around vivid, almost novelistic character studies and unflinching self-examination. The material’s cast of characters all attempt to find strength and solace in accepting what lies beyond our limited control, ultimately pondering how we find contentment and peace in a confusing, chaotic and frightening world. “We all have these little kingdoms inside of our minds,” the band’s Chris Wood says in press notes.  “And without really planning it out, the songs on this album all ended up exploring that idea in some way or another. They look at the ways we deal with our dreams and our regrets and our fears and our loves. They look at the stories we tell ourselves and the ways we balance the darkness and the light.”

But while the lyrics dig into deep philosophical territory, the arrangements draw from a broad sonic and stylistic spectrum. Earlier this year, I wrote about the slow-burning, Dr. John/New Orleans-like jazz ballad “Alabaster,” a song centered around an empathetic portrait of a woman, who has broken free of her old life and relocated far away for a much-needed fresh start. And while featuring an incredibly novelistic attention to detail, the song manages to feel improvised yet simultaneously crafted. Kingdom In My Mind‘s second single was the slow-burning country blues “Cry Over Nothing,” a meditation on the ego, perspective and fate told with a playfully fatalistic sensibility. Sometimes, even the sky is against you — and there ain’t a thing you can do about it. 

The album’s third and latest single “Little Bit Sweet” interestingly enough features soTme of the album’s first bit of improvised instrumentation from those early jam sessions. Centered around a bouncy bass line and shimmering guitars, the song is part old-timey lament and part world-weary sigh focusing on mortality, the passing of time and getting older, and the impermanent nature of all things. And yet through the tears and heartache, there’s a sense of acceptance and awe of the things that the song’s narrator can’t understand. It just is — and sometimes it’s wonderful because of that. 

ØZWALD is a Nashville-based Americana act, featuring Jason Wade and Steve Stout, two old pros, who have had lengthy stints as touring musicians in Lifehouse and Blondfire respectively. The project can trace its origins back to about five years ago when Stout was recruited to play on a Lifehouse world tour that would eventually be canceled; however, Stout and Wade developed a bond — and when Wade returned to California, he needed an engineer to work on some material, so he asked Stout, who had started working in production.

“What if we both sing?” Wade and Stout asked themselves. Instead of artist to engineer, their relationship quickly became artist to artist. Inspired by the prospect of creating something new, the duo set a goal of completing three songs in two weeks. The end result was the duo’s full-length debut Sweet Delirium, which was heavily influenced by the sounds and albums of the late 60s and the songwriting of Elliott Smith and Paul Simon. Since the release of Sweet Delirium, the duo relocated from Los Angeles to Nashville, where almost naturally, they wound up changing their songwriting approach — with their surroundings finding a way to bleed into the material they were writing.  As a result, the band’s forthcoming Born In A State EP, which is slated for a December release, is a major sonic departure and thematic influenced by the likes of Wilco, Foxwarren and Nashville that finds the duo in a contemplative and nostalgic mood.

Adding to the overall contemplative mood, while working on the material, which would comprise the Born In A State EP, Stout and his longtime girlfriend broke up. Crashing on Wade’s couch, the two wrote two songs a day, amassing twelve songs in two weeks. The duo recruited fellow musician and engineer Max Allyn, who helped fleshed out the material by directly contributing on the tracks, turning the duo into a trio.

The EP’s second and latest track “Worth The Wait” is a shimmering 70s AM rock-like track with a buoyant melody — but at its core is an awareness of the passing of time, of dreams unfulfilled and subverted, of the inevitable compromises of adulthood. But there are the small victories of love and family, of simply just being here another day — and those are things to celebrate.