Brothers in Arms: the Wood Brothers

 

Brothers Oliver and Chris Wood set out on the road of rock on very different paths, stepping over and around familial remains – those of the Davies, the Gallaghers, the Robinsons – brothers who couldn’t always make it work on stage with one another.

 

The Wood brothers each marked out a distinct voice and personality.  Oliver had his blues-rock sound of King Johnson, and Chris gave audiences the jazz stylings of Medeski, Martin, & Wood.

 

They were two brothers each setting up shop in two entirely different musical universes.

The long dusty road that is rock ‘n’ roll is littered with the remains of brothers who joined forces in a band, then achieved great heights musically…only to see that partnership dissolve against the ugly backdrop of fighting and distrust.

 

The Davies brothers and the battling Gallaghers relied on the combustible nature of their relationship with their sibling to fuel their creativity.  They were able to be successful under these volatile circumstances, but they soon found that when they invariably parted ways they found much less success, as their own identity was so deeply tied to that of their brother.

 

Brothers Chris and Rich Robinson are example 1A of this.  They parted ways in the Black Crowes to each pursue solo endeavors, only to find moderate success when they were apart.  It was not until last year’s Black Crowes reunion that they regained what they had lost while apart.

 

All this goes to make the Wood Brothers partnership that much more unique.

 

The Wood brothers spent time together when their busy schedules allowed, but they kept their careers seperate.  It was not until 2002 in Winston-Salem when King Johnson opened for Medeski, Martin, & Wood, with Oliver joining brother Chris and MMW later in their set that thing began to take shape.  This show was the catalyst, as Chris got a chance to see his brother play, and was in his words, “blown away.”

 

Busy schedules kept them apart for the next two years, but finally the brothers decided to bring their instruments with them on a family vacation to Vermont.  Immediately they felt they had something; older songs were rearranged and they had time to bang out a couple of new ones.  Things moved quickly after that as they found themselves in the studio recording their demo.  They were signed shortly there after and went to work on their debut album.

 

Ways Not to Lose, released last year, is an intimate journey by two mature musicians who are unafraid to strip down their sound and expose the rawness of themselves and their music.  Bassist Chris loses the rock-solid backing of his bandmates in MMW, and Oliver strips down his sound to a simple acoustic guitar and his road-weary voice.

 

 

The album centers around Chris’s steady bass that provides the backbone, while Oliver’s guitar brings the personality.  The album is full sounding and vibrant.  Oliver describes it this way: “There is something about the way we play together that implies other things like drums or some other instrument in there, it is almost like an illusion.”

 

Seeing them live delivers the same experience.  The two of them stripped down, with Oliver seated out front giving off an air of home-grown comfort and Chris standing off slightly to his side.  Despite the obvious lack of theatrics, they put on an intriguing show – you can see they genuinely enjoy their time on stage together, free from the constraints that may bind them in their own bands.

 

Unlike so many other brother combinations they are not dependant on each other; they have their own bands they can go back to.  This provides a chance for the brothers to relax, do what they do best, and spend time with each.  On stage this is all too clear.  Chris bounces around his upright bass with an enthusiasm not always seen in the sometimes stuffy confines of MMW.  Meanwhile, Oliver slowly taps his foot in time and bangs his head to the rhythm, looking as pleased as he can, smiling in appreciation at Chris.

 

The two of them nod their heads in agreement and talk to each other without saying a word, as only brothers can.

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