Author: Varner, Marty

The Wood Brothers

There is no doubt that bluegrass has evolved during its 70 years of existence, and today it seems that a certain faction is closer to traditional folk than bluegrass. The Mumford bands are known for a retro on steroids type style, which drives us normal blue grassers to insanity. They are giving us normal dressing non hipster members of the bluegrass community a bad name. I am tired of these talentless acts gracing audiences of 50,000 people splitting $50,000 while I am playing on the streets of Santa Cruz for bus fare.

But I understood what these audiences were going for. They did not know the difference between good instrumentation or not, or maybe they did not care. What they cared about was the soul and passion the bad performed with. The best example I have seen is Trampled by Turtles. This band is a favorite of mine, because of the energy they bring to the stage, as well as the passion of the lead singer when he sings one of his own songs. After repeated listens to the album, it grew tiring and I needed something new, and I found it: a band that combines the soul and passion of bands like Trampled by Turtles and has the instrumental abilities of a super group. The band is the Wood Brothers

This three piece contains guitar, bass and percussion, but fills up so much more space. Oliver is the guitar player and lead vocalist. He was a part of the Jazz trio Madeski Martin & Wood. This former project is much different from his current ones because it features much more of his guitar playing, and is much more electric and jazz oriented. Chris Wood was the bassist for the for the wood brothers as well as the jazz group, and is regarded as one of the most talented bass players in the world. Even though there is much to band, I believe it all begins with him. He creates the grooves that thrive in each song and fills most of the empty spaces with either bluesy or using his bow. Chris is incredibly tasteful and one of my favorite bass players in bluegrass or not.

The band takes much time on each song for arrangements. They pay attention to each start and stop more than any band I have ever listened to. It is so perfect that it almost seems effortless, which it might be. The solos each instrumentalist present show a playful quality that can only show that they have the ultimate grasp on music in general. They are able to mold it into the peculiar shapes that make each one of us either perk our ears or laugh out loud of the genius they reveal with those certain notes in that succession. They also have an incredible grasp on rhythm and how to deform it into the certain groove they desire. Many songs include numerous speed changes, which add to the overall mood of the songs they decide to execute that technique.

The song writing is also a strength. The honest Hemingway-esque language they use gives them the straight up transparent feeling they want to give. Oliver’s voice is so honest that the words fit it so perfectly. The melodies also are incredibly varied. “The Truth is the Light” is incredibly bluesy and dark compared to “Luckiest Man,” which brings a folky melodic style.

This band was such a breath of fresh air to everything else coming out commercially, or underground, or even in bluegrass. It combined the passion that most people require to enjoy a band, and incredible skill at their respective instruments. There is a serious shortage of instrumental talent in commercial or underground music since now a computer can create better solos than humans can produce. But when live, it carries a fraction of the weight because it takes a fraction of the skill. The Wood Brothers are a real band in an age when it is much more practical to work out at the gym and plan what clothes you will wear, than how good you are at your respective instrument. The future does not look bright, but I hope dearly that there will always be bands like the Wood Brothers carrying on the tradition of talent in music.

Posted:  12/7/2013

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