Greg Wood III – Greg Wood III (2011)

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Greg Wood takes plenty of opportunities to play his guitar with bloody-knuckled purpose on this self-titled album. But there’s more — much more — to this project, as Wood uncovers a series of complex, emotional thoughts.

The opening “Razorblades” combines a crunchy guitar riff, at once hard and propulsive, with a snarled lyric full of similar-sounding recriminations. The singer-songwriter has, with only a moment’s notice, framed Greg Wood III as a darkly confessional offering, but one that doesn’t at first promise much in the way of melancholy wonder. Wood’s fleet solo, a burst of emotion, telegraphs a more direct response to life’s troubled times: Punching back.

A similar riffy menace surrounds “You Wouldn’t Understand,” which only becomes more freewheeling with the addition of a swooning slide. Wood tries again, within the song’s scalding lyrics, to explain things: “I’m a life,” he sings, “that’s built on pain,” before seeming to give up on framing it all: “You wouldn’t understand.”

Even Wood’s love songs, it seems, are going to be difficult expressions of broken passion, as on the soaring “Little While,” where his characters make gruff admissions on the fleeting nature of relationships. At the same time, though, Wood begins sketching out a very different storyline on the guitar — one of hard-bitten perspective that only comes from being hurt one too many times. Drummer Byran Bueckert is, as always, a rattling engine pushing Wood’s heavy-rocking tunes into another gear, but already we get the sense that there is more to Greg Wood III than shredding.

The subsequent “Fly Away” makes good on that promise, as Wood settles into a more contemplative groove, allowing himself to sing rather than growl for the first time on the project. His solo work this time is a perfectly proportioned, blues-drenched cry, rather than an angry retort. From there, Wood moves through a series of musical environments, and in some instances deeper, sentiment.

First, comes the delicate acoustic beauty found on the intro to “Hope In Her Eyes.” Of course, before long, Wood and Co. come rumbling back for the crisply exciting chorus — mimicking the narrative sweep associated with bands like Pearl Jam — but not before showing a canny ability to perform in more considered surroundings. (Wood returns to this ebb-and-flow formula later, with “Memories and Postcards.”)

Any questions as to whether Wood and Co. can handle the raw openness of a ballad are answered on the fully realized “Father’s Touch,” as Wood welcomes a pair of guest artists in organist Chris Andrew and vocalist Lindsey Ell. Multi-instrumentalist Stew Kirkwood, already heard on bass and piano, switches to pedal steel guitar, as well. The result is a country-tinged lament, this elegantly wrought story of missed opportunities in love. Ell’s vocal blends perfectly with Wood’s, and with Kirkwood’s weeping lines, to create this moment of hushed, heartbroken beauty.

Then Wood plugs back in, as “Infinity” comes roaring out with a grungy Bo Diddley beat. In full howl again now, Wood’s character returns to complaining about his one-horse town and brushing off a girl who can’t see how he really feels — all while Wood tears off a series of brawny licks on the guitar.

“Cocaine Lover,” perhaps the most intricate musical offering on Greg Wood III, seems at first to be a showcase for a burst of Doors-inspired organ from Andrew. Soon, however, Bueckert begins working in a convoluted drum signature, and he and Wood deftly move the song from a mid-tempo lope into a dynamic, polyrhythmic groove — and then back again. “Perfect Drug” finds Kirkwood (now on bass) and Wood bashing their way through an intensely desolate cadence, even as Wood’s offers his most blatantly catchy vocal. The lyric has more to do with the former than the latter, however, as Wood cautions against falling for someone who struggles to contain his welled-up emotions: “I should have never let you see … a darker side of me,” Wood sings over a shambling, stuttering music bed that perfectly underscores this collision of atmospherics.

Finally, there’s “Whiskey Smile,” another urgently rocking fable about somebody who’s dealing with just a little bit more than she can handle. As Bueckert thrums along with dangerous intent, Wood offers a closing blast of guitar fury — moving from quietly assertive to deadly serious then to a lusty shout, then back again.

It’s a nice metaphor for Greg Wood III as a whole, this head-banging record that touches the heart, too.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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