The Wood Brothers

The Wood Brothers

Sun, September 2, 2012

Doors: 9:00 pm / Show: 9:30 pm

$25.00 - $28.00

Off Sale

This event is 21 and over

The Wood Brothers
The Wood Brothers
Two brothers decide to form a band, adapting the blues, folk and other roots‐music sounds they loved
as kids into their own evocative sound and twining their voices in the sort of high‐lonesome harmony
blend for which sibling singers are often renowned. While that's not a terribly unusual story, the Wood
Brothers took a twisty path to their ultimate collaboration. Indeed, they pursued separate projects for
some 15 years before joining forces.
You wouldn't necessarily gather this fact from listening to Smoke Ring Halo (Southern Ground), the
duo's third full‐length album – their musical chemistry has never felt more profound. Oliver Wood
(guitar, vocals) and Chris Wood (bass, vocals, harmonica) refine their rich, spacious sound on songs like
the rousing opener "Mary Anna," the back‐porch‐funky "Shoofly Pie," the waltz‐time plaint "Pay
Attention," the elegiac title track, the gospel‐inflected "Made It Up the Mountain" and more.
With supple assistance from drummer Tyler Greenwell and a fleet of gifted guest players – not to
mention Grammy‐nominated producer‐engineer‐mixer Jim Scott (Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, Lucinda
Williams) – the brothers simmer, swing and soar, shifting moods and time signatures with aplomb. As
ever, Oliver's lived‐in, expressive voice and urgent fretwork bounce off Chris' propulsive stand‐up bass
lines, in‐the‐pocket harmonies and ghostly harmonica phrases. But this time Chris contributed some
lead vocals, displaying a startlingly pure tone on the dreamy "The Shore" and the slide‐spiced
"Rainbow."
They both imbibed the heady tones and stories of American roots music – notably folk, blues, bluegrass
and country – at the feet of their father, a molecular biologist with a passion for performing. "Even
before we discovered his record collection, we listened to him around the campfire or at family
gatherings," Oliver recalls of assorted hootenannies at their Boulder, Colorado, home and other locales.
"He'd entertain anybody." Adds Chris, "Having that experience of live music at home was pretty
important. It definitely affected the way my brother and I view music." Their mother, a poet,
meanwhile, taught them a deep appreciation for storytelling and turn of phrase.
Though initially "too shy to sing," Oliver became obsessed with the guitar, especially as voiced by
bluesmen like Lightnin' Hopkins and Jimmy Reed. Chris, who cites the "roundness, warmth and mystery"
of those same blues recordings as a primary influence, studied clarinet and piano but gravitated toward
jazz sounds; by the time he took up the bass he was fully enraptured. The boys discovered classic rock
artists like Hendrix and Led Zeppelin on their own along the way; Oliver followed those monster guitar
riffs back to the electric blues of "the Kings" (B.B., Albert and Freddie), Albert Collins and other midcentury
masters. He too spent some time spellbound by the complex filigrees of bebop – but, as he says,
"I came back full circle" to roots music.
Their paths diverged after those teenage explorations. Oliver briefly attended UC Santa Cruz before
dropping out to follow some fellow musicians to Atlanta, where he tackled Motown and other R&B
covers on guitar in local clubs. "I was learning how to be a working musician," he remembers. "I didn't
yet have aspirations to be an artist." Though that band didn't last long, a regular Tuesday‐night gig at
Fat Matt's Rib Shack enabled him to hone his chops and learn from older players. He eventually secured
a spot in the band of veteran bluesman Tinsley Ellis, touring widely and experiencing the elder
musician's "workhorse" schedule. It was his mentor Ellis who ultimately encouraged him to approach
the microphone. "He gave me a Freddie King song, 'See See Baby,' to sing in the set," Oliver relates. "He
encouraged me to write and sing. That's where I got the fire to do my own thing."
He formed King Johnson with his buddy Chris Long, layering R&B, funk, soul and country elements over
their beloved blues influences. He toured constantly with that "labor of love" band during the 12 years
of its existence; KJ released six albums and eventually became a six‐piece outfit (including a horn
section).
Chris, meanwhile, went off to the New England Conservatory of Music (NEC), developing his virtuosic
skills on bass, studying with jazz luminaries like Geri Allen and Dave Holland and gigging regularly as a
sideman. It was during a fateful session in Western Massachusetts that he met keyboard wizard John
Medeski; with drummer Billy Martin, they would go on to form the hugely influential, genre‐busting
instrumental trio Medeski Martin & Wood in the early '90s. MMW released a string of discs combining
jazz, funk, blues, experimental noise and myriad other subgenres and styles into their own distinctive
amalgam, and mesmerized audiences worldwide with their seemingly telekinetic improvisation. Wood's
colossal grooves on both electric and acoustic axes – not to mention his imaginative use of paper behind
the strings and other sound‐altering techniques – made him the bass player's bass player.
Eventually, King Johnson opened for MMW in Winston‐Salem, N.C., and Oliver sat in with his brother's
band. "It was a slightly creepy experience, like watching myself" Chris notes. "He had a lot of the same
impulses I did. Part of it was influences and part of it was blood." Agrees Oliver, "It opened our eyes
that we could communicate on a musical level."
In 2004, the brothers seized the opportunity presented by a family reunion and recorded some material
together on Chris' mobile gear. The sound of their blended styles was instantly compelling. "It was
pretty amazing to get together with Chris," Oliver muses. "We played together as teenagers, then we
went in separate directions for 15 years. We'd developed our own thing and seemingly different styles
and roads, but we were both blown away by how much we had in common. The roots are still there."
Oliver took the music they'd recorded, added lyrics and finished it as a song. Encouraged by their initial
foray, the Woods decided to take the next step, with Chris learning a batch of Oliver's songs and the pair
tracking a demo. Though they'd done it for their own amusement, MMW's manager was sufficiently
impressed to pass the music on to Blue Note Records. No sooner had they begun to think of themselves
as a band than the Wood Brothers had a record deal. (Prior to releasing their album debut for the label,
the pair dropped an EP, Live at Tonic; it was culled from their very first gig together, at the storied New
York club.)
Oliver had spent years polishing his singing and songwriting but felt his guitar chops needed work. Chris,
meanwhile, was a monster player who'd spent 15 years making instrumental music and had to reacclimate
himself to vocals and pop song structure. These different emphases ended up serving them
well. "I had these songs and could sing and play 'em well," reflects Oliver, "and Chris' strength – at the
time – was to take my songs and make 'em sound completely cool and unique. Instead of a typical band
situation, you had this incredible upright bass."
2006 saw the release of their first album, Ways Not to Lose, which was named top pick in folk by
Amazon.com's editors that year. "Modern folk and blues rarely sounds as inventive and colorful,"
declared Amazon reviewer Ted Drozdowski, who deemed the disc "delightful" and declared the brothers
"in absolute synch creatively."
Ways was produced by MMW's John Medeski, who had been stunned by Oliver's compositions. "He's an
unbelievable songwriter – his material is deep," the keyboardist marvels. "I can't tell you how many of
Oliver's songs I thought were old traditional standards. They just sound classic." Medeski went on to
produce the Brothers' 2008 follow‐up, Loaded (heralded as one NPR's "Overlooked 11"); he also
contributes some tasty organ playing to Smoke Ring Halo. "I just love his musical sensibility," Oliver says
of his brother's longtime bandmate.
Working with Jim Scott on Halo, the Woods were able to explore new sounds. "Because he's also an
engineer, he's very technically knowledgeable; he's a fantastic sonic guy," Oliver volunteers. "That's why
this record sounds so different from our others." Also, Chris points out, "We recorded on two‐inch
analog tape this time, so it has that fat, natural sound we love."
In 2010, the Woods and drummer Greenwell hit the road with roots‐rock phenom Zac Brown. "It was
about the best opening‐band situation I can imagine," Chris says of the tour, which sometimes put the
Wood Brothers before crowds of 20,000 – many times larger than the usual audience for their
headlining gigs. "Zac was really great; he'd come out and play with us during our set, and invite us out
to join in during his." Oliver notes that he and his brother "learned a lot by watching Zac and his band."
Brown also wooed the Woods over to his own label, Southern Ground; he served as executive producer
on Smoke Ring Halo.
And so the two brothers continued pursuing the musical adventure they'd begun in childhood. For
although their paths diverged for many years, and they forged very different careers in disparate places,
the Wood Brothers are never far from the musical currents that formed their musical impulses in the
first place. It may be, in Chris' formation, part influences and part blood. But it's all magic.
Venue Information:
Pink Garter Theatre
50 West Broadway
Jackson Hole, Wyoming, 83001
http://www.pinkgartertheatre.com