Oliver Wood (from the album Always Smilin’ available on Honey Jar/Thirty Tigers Records) (by Brian Rock)
Sometimes attitude is everything, as Oliver Wood demonstrates on his debut solo album, Always Smilin’. Oliver Wood, like many other musicians, was watching lost touring money fly out the window with each passing day of Covid lockdown. But rather than cry in his beer, the longtime Roots music stalwart took the time away from his band, The Wood Brothers, to vent some individual creative energy. Focusing on the Piedmont Blues and Southern Gospel aspects of his vast Americana repertoire, Wood seeks the silver lining in the grey clouds that seem to surround us.
“Kindness” opens the album. With his resonator guitar at the fore, backed with an array of acoustic stringed instruments, funky syncopated percussion, and just a touch of righteous Hammond organ, Wood sings, ‘I know a man and he’s always smilin’. He looks so easy he could be flyin’’. Intrigued by the man’s optimistic outlook, he asks, ‘How do I find this way that you’re living’. To which he hears the reply, ‘Kindness. Kindness is my religion’. A simple, but powerful distillation of the Golden Rule, this refrain is a much-needed tonic for our times. When everyone seems to be looking for someone to blame, or to cancel, or to look down on; this kernel of truth reminds us to recalibrate and remember that our beliefs are meaningless unless they are reflected in our actions. If everyone who is so hell bent on changing the world would take the time to change themselves with this truth in mind, what a wonderful world it would be.
Oliver Wood drops some more truth on, “Roots”. With dramatic piano chords setting the tone, he reminds us that we are all just the sum of our personal and collective past. Or as he so eloquently explains, ‘they all tripping on roots – roots of the past. You may stumble, but don’t you turn back… Anybody going anywhere is tripping on roots’. For better or worse, we are all tied to our past, our parent’s past, our nations’ past, our planet’s past. So, before you criticize, walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. Woods’ earthy vocal tones are perfectly suited to deliver these timeless messages. Like fellow Americana artists, Will Kimbrough, Charlie Parr, and Luke Winslow King, Oliver Wood’s voice has a Rootsy, ‘down home’ feel that conveys warmth and wisdom. Musically, he combines his traditional Piedmont Blues with touches of Gospel and Southern Funk that recall the styles of Leon Russell or Little Feat with echoes of Ray Charles and Randy Newman.
“Get the Blues” adds Dixieland horns to offer a musical prayer for these trying times. Singing, ‘Lord, can’t you hear us. Dear Lord, maybe do you fear us. Yes, you’re the great provider. But Lord, you could’ve made us kinder’; he seems to suggest that even the Almighty gets the Blues from time to time. “Came from Nothing” is a sparse, acoustic Blues celebration of humble beginnings. “Molasses” is a Blues ballad about enjoying a little heaven on earth, ‘before my last breath’. Wood combines Blues, Funk, and Gospel to explore the gray area ‘between love and lust; between truth and trust’ in “Fine Line”. He adds harmonica and Jazz rhythms to reinterpret the Gospel standard, “The Battle Is Over (But the War Goes On”. “Face of Reason” is a Funky, ray of musical sunshine that reminding us that ‘the fact that you’re still breathing, well it flies in the face of reason’. He returns to straight Piedmont Blues on the ballads “Soul of This Town,” and “Unbearable Heart.” Saving his most upbeat number for last, “Climbing High Mountains (Tryin’ to Get Home); Wood gives a spirited, cowbell-enhanced rendition of the traditional Gospel song.
With his uplifting and insightful lyrics, and his funky spin on Piedmont Blues, Oliver Wood is the silver lining we’ve been looking for. Irrepressibly optimistic and irresistibly catchy. These songs are “Always Smilin’” even when singing the Blues. So, next time you need a little boost, play one of these tunes and smile along. (by Brian Rock)
Listen and buy the music of Oliver Wood from AMAZON
For more information, please visit the Oliver Wood website