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The Wood Brothers began as a quirky duo with musical charm far out of proportion to its numbers. On Smoke Ring Halo the brothers continue as a trio (with plenty of guests),extending their collective virtues further still.
The Woods' wry sense of humor comes through as clearly on "Mary Anna" as drummer Tyler Greenwell's forthright beat, itself anchored by Chris Wood's bass. Sibling guitarist Oliver Wood has as light a touch with his rhythm guitar as he does his vocal phrasing on lines like ..."fumbling with the light switch to your heart..."
On "Shoofly Pie" The Woods demonstrate how naturally this music comes to them. Muted electric guitar figures, both slide and rhythm, complement the words coming from the corner of the singer's mouth. "Stumbled In" works equally well, as the halting rhythm reaffirms the sense of accidental discovery of mutual desire and the sensual delights that accompany it.
There is no false sense of academic correctitude with The Woods though, as this is music to be enjoyed viscerally first and intellectually second. Why else the sense of abandon, as quiet as it is, on "Pay Attention"? These two display a sense of command as palpable as the directive implicit in the title of this song: it's the gesture of a conversationalist lowering his voice to be heard. The swooping harmonica Chris Wood plays has all the style of his work on the double-bass to which he otherwise relegates himself on the album's ten tracks.
The warmth and affection redolent in the title song destroy any sense of damaging detachment or irony from The Woods, especially when horns emerge to softly exalt the sentiment punctuated by keyboardist John Medeski's swirling organ. This music is too understated to call attention to itself but, like the snappy bass intro to "When I Was Young," far too authoritative to ignore. The synchrony of The Woods themselves on "When I Was Young" proves you don't need a big(ger) band to really cook.
With Greenwell slapping along under Medeski's organ lines, while Oliver twirls off tart licks around Chris' circular bass lines, The Woods sound like a different ensemble, especially after the quiet of "The Shore." Yet the deceptively modest attitude at the heart of this music continues to resonate here and "Rainbow" is replete with it too, as this penultimate track reaffirms how the duo uses plays on words as judiciously as syncopation.
One of a number of reflections here on youth and the passage of time, "Blue and Green" concludes Smoke Ring Halo as it began, vividly enough to become instantly memorable and so infectious it begs to be played again instantly or in sequence with The Wood Brothers' other splendid recordings.
Track Listing: Mary Anna; Shoofly Pie; Pay Attention; Stumbled In; Smoke Ring Halo;
When I Was Young; The Shore; Made It Up the Mountain; Rainbow;
Blue and Green.
Personnel: Oliver Wood: guitars, vocals; Chris Wood: bass, vocals, harmonica;
Tyler Greenwell: drums, percussion; John Medeski: organ (3, 5, 8); Clay Cook: background vocals (1, 2, 5, 7); Joe
McGuinness: background vocal (4, 8); Dave Roth: background
vocal (8); Zac Brown: background vocal (10); Will Scruggs:
tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone (3, 5, 10,); Wes
Funderbork: trombone (3, 5, 10); Joe Gransden: trumpet (3, 5, 10); Jim Scott: flexitone (4).
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.