Live Concert Photography: The Wood Brothers with Kat Wright at Webster Hall 1/30/20
Over the past couple of years, I’ve spilled quite a bit of virtual ink covering the acclaimed, Nashville-based, folk/roots/Americana act and JOVM mainstays The Wood Brothers. Now, as you may recall, last year the trio released the live album Live at the Fillmore, which further cemented their long-held reputation for live shows centered around performances that defy categorization: the band’s delivery comfortably lives at the intersection of arena rock energy and small theater intimacy while sonically their work boldly and mischievously blurs the genre lines of folk, rock, blues, soul funk, roots music, alt-country, country and Americana. During the trio’s usually busy touring schedule, they found time to write and record their latest album Kingdom In My Mind.
Throughout their time together, the trio’s creative process would generally begin with the band writing songs before they got to the studio and then deliberately setting 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 behind their latest effort. “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 Wood 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 on 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, except laugh and admire the universe’s cruel ironies. The album’s third single “Little Bit Sweet” can trace its origins back to the initial jam sessions and improvised instrumentation that birthed its material. 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 JOVM mainstays began the year with Kingdom in My Mind‘s fourth single, the zydeco-tinged stomp, “The One I Love.” The song is a meditation on love and the seemingly endless search for balance between darkness and light. Interestingly, the song suggests that the needed balance within our world and within our lives can be found closest to us — with those we love.
The trio are currently on tour to support the new album. The tour included a two night stand at Webster Hall — January 30, 2019 and January 31, 2019. I caught The Wood Brothers on the first night of their two night stay. Burlington, VT-based singer/songwriter Kat Wright, who opened for the band during the East Coast leg of the tour, opened. Check out the remaining tour dates and photos from the show below.
2/13 – Chattanooga, TN – Walker Theatre ^
2/14 – Nashville, TN – The Ryman ^
2/27 – 3/1 – Punta Cana, DR – Avett Brothers at the Beach (Sold Out)
3/4 – Phoenix, AZ – The Crescent Ballroom *
3/5 – Los Angeles, CA – The Regent *
3/6 – Santa Barbara, CA – Campbell Hall *
3/7 – Oakland, CA – Fox Theater *
3/8 – Eureka, CA – Arkley Center for the Performing Arts *
3/10 – Eugene, OR – McDonald Theater *
3/11 – Kirkland, WA – Kirkland Performance Center *
3/12 – Portland, OR – Crystal Ballroom *
3/13 – Vancouver, BC – Imperial *
4/2 – Knoxville, TN – Bijou Theatre
4/3 – Knoxville, TN – Bijou Theatre
4/4 – Chicago, IL – Riviera Theatre
4/5 – Milwaukee, WI – Pabst Theatre
4/7 – Detroit, MI – Majestic Theatre
4/8 – Columbus, OH – Southern Theatre
4/9 – Asheville, NC – The Orange Peel
4/10 – Asheville, NC – The Orange Peel
4/11 – Asheville, NC – The Orange Peel
5/22 – Chillicothe, IL – Summer Camp Music Festival
6/27 – Laytonville, CA – Black Oak Ranch
^ w/ Kat Wright
* w/ Birds of Chicago
Best known as the frontwoman of acclaimed Burlington, VT-based indie/soul act, Kat Wright and the Indomitable Soul Band, Kat Wright has been praised for a voice that’s sultry and dynamic, delicate yet powerful; gritty yet emotive and nuanced — with some folks describing her as a “young Bonnie Raitt meets Amy Winehouse.” With her backing band — Josh Weinstein (bass), Bob Wagner (guitar), John Kimock (drums), Colin Jalbert (drums), Shane Hardiman (keys), Luke Laplant (baritone sax), Jake Whitesell (tenor sax) and Phil Rodriguez (trumpet) — Wright has opened for an extensive and diverse array of artists including Kacey Musgraves, Grace Potter, Marco Benevento, JOVM mainstays Rubblebucket, Lawrence, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Leftover Salmon, Ryan Montbleau,Soulive, The Motet, and the aforementioned The Wood Brothers. Along with those acts she’s shared stages with, she’s also collaborated with Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, moe., Voodoo Dead and Steve Kimock and Friends. Kat Wright and The Indomitable Soul Band’s forthcoming Eric Krasno-produced full-length is slated for release later this year — but interestingly enough, the Webster Hall set featured a stripped down band playing re-arranged versions of previously released material that leaned towards bluegrass, county and acoustic blues.