One is a member of a premier progressive jazz trio, the other is a blues troubadour and a vastly underrated producer, and yet Chris Wood and Oliver Wood share much more than a mom and dad. Since 2006’s Ways Not To Lose, the Wood Brothers has been their outlet for bluesy, folky root music and more than ten years on, this has grown well beyond side project status; their sixth studio album Paradise (2015) entered the Billboard Heatseekers Chart at #1 and lately they have been playing in larger venues. The Brothers themselves got larger by adding multi-instrumentalist and backup singer Jano Rix (a solid session drummer and producer in his own right), and a good thing only got better.
So when they strolled into Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble Woodstock barn last summer, they were greeted with a full house, and it was the right time to make a live record just four years after releasing two volumes of concert releases. Live At The Barn (Honey Jar Records/Thirty Tigers) is the happy result of that engagement.
Live albums make fine souvenirs but rarely demand more than a few listens. This one feels different. The crowd at the Midnight Ramble was enthused and ready to party but also ready to listen. And Oliver Wood embraces his audience with the warmness and familiarity of having a few friends over in his living room, greeting them “How y’all feelin’, is this a good spot or what?” This little trio can make plenty of noise when it wants to, and don’t always need an electrical outlet to make that happen because everyone in this unit can play. More than that, they bring Little Feat attitude with Taj Mahal worldliness and soul.
To be sure, these nine songs are all originals or covers pulled out of their studio recordings — save for the sturdy old blues standard “Trouble In Mind” — with almost half from The Muse and none from Paradise. But the vibe is just right for these songs. So much so, they feel right to jump right away into a mid-set tune like “Mary Anna” with its playful 3/4-4/4 vacillation and the backup harmonies from the Chris and Jano are spot-on.
Rhythms play a larger part of the Wood Brothers’ sound than other roots-rock bands, and why not with that rhythm section. They mete out a hip-shaking creole rhythm that loosens up Peppermint Harris’ “I Got Loaded” that blows away their studio version and Oliver has no problem getting the patrons to help sing the final verse. The funk gets a little greasier for “Tried And Tempted,” thanks for Chris Wood’s pocket-perfect standup bass. They slip a funky shuffle into the blues-rocker “Who The Devil,” but the middle is juiced up by Oliver Wood’s guttural electric guitar and by the end, the vocal harmonies will delight you.
After that and a rowdy folk-rocker (“Wastin’ My Mind”) the trio downshifts for “Postcards From Hell.” We enjoyed this gem of a folk tune in its original form back when Loaded first came out and the Brothers led by Oliver Wood’s rustic vocal deliver a powerful portrayal of it here.
To close the show right at Levon’s place, the Wood Brothers chose a well-known The Band song for which Helm sang the lead vocal. On this rendition of “Ophelia,” all three share in the lead vocals when not combining for three-part harmony, and show off a little bit of their chops and a lot of their get-up-and-go as well.
After a decade of honing this brother act, The Woods are right up there with the Tedeschi Trucks Band as one of the go-to attractions on the roots-music circuit; Live At The Barn makes that clear. Matter of fact, these two bands — along with Hot Tuna — are touring together this summer. Catch them at a stage near you:
Itinerary – Wheels of Soul Summer Tour 2017
July 1 – Gilford, NH – Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion
July 2 – Essex, VT (Burlington) – Midway Lawn at Champlain Valley Exposition
July 3 – Saratoga, NY – Saratoga Performing Arts Center
July 5 – Vienna, VA (DC) –Wolf Trap *
July 8 – Rochester, NY – Highland Bowl
July 9 – Simsbury, CT – Simsbury Meadows Performing Arts Center
July 12 – Virginia Beach, VA – Veterans United Home Loans Amphitheater **
July 14 – Raleigh, NC – Red Hat Amphitheater **
July 15 – Atlanta, GA – Fox Theatre ***
July 16 – Charlotte, NC – Charlotte Metro Credit Union Amphitheatre **
July 19 – Indianapolis, IN – Farm Bureau Insurance Lawn
?July 21 – Cincinnati, OH – PNC Pavilion at Riverbend Music Center
July 22 – Huber Heights, OH (Dayton) – Rose Music Center
July 23 – Rochester, MI (Detroit) – Meadow Brook Amphitheatre
July 25 – Rogers, AR – Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion
July 27 – Albuquerque, NM – Sandia Casino
July 29-30 – Morrison, CO – Red Rocks Amphitheatre
(More info on the tour here.)