The Wood Brothers
(Honey Jar/Thirty Tigers)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Salvation, sin, loneliness, yearning, desire, faith, prayers for peace and heartache aren’t concepts to be taken lightly. But on their fifth studio effort, the Wood Brothers wrap spry, soulful folk-rock around songs that address those and other weighty topics with a light touch and even some surprisingly forceful grooves.
Paradise, recorded at Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound Nashville studio, represents the first time the group —brothers Chris and Oliver Wood along with percussionist/multi-instrumentalist Jano Rix — composed an album with all the members in the room. The result is the warmest, most sublime and occasionally rowdiest Wood Brothers release. Oliver’s expressive, immediately distinctive voice and spirited wordplay remains at the heart of the sound. But refined, meticulously arranged horns on half the tracks expand the act’s folksy vista. That also brings them closer to The Band, a frequent comparison, especially on the New Orleans funeral march tempo of the magnificent “Two Places.”
The opening “Singing To Strangers” featuring Chris’ seldom heard harmonica skills kicks things off in fine rocking fashion. But it’s on “Snake Eyes” with its modified Bo Diddley beat where the threesome fully explores their more aggressive side. The raw, bluesy “Raindrop” combines a Tom Waits vibe with angry lyrics (“put a stain on an innocent heart/ it just won’t wash away”) for a tune that swings as hard as anything the trio has done. It’s followed by the lovely tropicalia and bittersweet sentiments of “Touch Of Your Hand” (“nothing brings peace to the soul of a man/ like the sweet lovin’ touch of your hand”) featuring honeyed slide guitar that mirrors the similarly styled concepts.
The cover art of the carrot and stick — reaching for fulfillment that’s just out of reach — can reference any number of these songs. But an aching sense of longing has seldom felt this good and Paradise, nearly a decade on from the Wood Brother’s debut, is the sound of a band not so much hitting its stride as refining it.