To stay fresh and inventive, a band should move south and buy a Nashville recording studio. The formula certainly works for The Wood Brothers–Chris and Oliver Wood with Jano Rix–who have been soaking up the unique “Music City” scene since relocating to Tennessee last decade. The band’s seventh and most recent studio album, 2020’s Kingdom In My Mind, showcases a talented group of musicians once again redefining their sound.
Breaking free from the traditional “play for perfection” studio mindset dictated by limited time and money, the trio felt loose and empowered to experiment in their new rehearsal space. After hours spent in their imaginary sonic playground, Chris Wood sat behind the mixing board like a mad scientist while working on the band’s latest effort, collecting the best bits and pieces from the various sessions to form cohesive compositions. The result is their most exploratory album to date.
From the early days, the Wood Brothers exhibited something different on stage. It isn’t easy to pin down their musical identity without naming at least three genres and praising their unique concoction of reflective storytelling, playful banter, and old-timey ceremony. Oliver Wood’s signature voice and masterful songwriting is the reason for being credited with the majority of lyrics and vocals in the Wood Brothers repertoire. Over the past few albums, however, his brother Chris was handed the mic (and pen) on several occasions. For the Kingdom release, the band credits all songwriting equally, symbolically broadcasting to the world that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
“We weren’t performing songs,” explains Oliver. “We were just improvising and letting the music dictate everything. Normally when you’re recording, you’re thinking about your parts and your performances, but with these sessions, we were just reacting to each other and having fun in the moment.”
The empowered playing resulted in prime storytelling which can be found in the soulful opening track, “Alabaster”. About the song’s origins, Oliver says, “Driving home I saw a sign for Alabaster, Alabama, and the name really stuck with me. In the news at the time, there was a lot of talk of certain states rolling back women’s rights, as well as women uniting to expose and fight sexual abuse. The story and images came to me of a young woman struggling to empower herself in this changing atmosphere. The song pits the old against the new.”
Lyrically, “Little Bit Sweet” travels through the events that define our lives. Musically, it tells the story of The Wood Brothers’ growth beginning with Oliver’s delicate vocals and solo guitar work and snowballing into a harmonized chorus and rich percussion fills from the brilliant Jano Rix. The song builds and peaks much like the band has over the past decade and a half. “Jitterbug Love” has a backwoods, jug band vibe and features Chris on lead vocals for the first time on the album.
Rix takes over the organ on “Cry Over Nothing” and transforms the tune from upfront Americana to Southern Gospel music, encapsulating the double entendre lyrics powerfully sung by Oliver. In a world where social media and spotlight egotism has plagued the younger generations’ sense of self and what it means to be “normal,” The Wood Brothers offer progress before perfection in “Little Bit Broken”.
Touching on concepts from the title track off of 2013’s The Muse, “The One I Love” cheerfully romanticizes married life and the temptations from the outside world. Conceptually reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s “Eclipse” from Dark Side of the Moon, the band sings about earthly unity and the human experience in “Little Blue”, stepped with ethereal sound effects and a variety of different instruments. Oliver takes aim at the afterlife in “Satisfied” before “Little Blue” is eerily reprised in tribal fashion to close out the diverse album.
With the same three musicians, The Wood Brothers continue to grow their sound and influence. The international tour supporting Kingdom In My Mind kicks off at Rams Head Live in Baltimore, MD on Wednesday, January 29th, and will see the caravan hitting cities from Toronto, ON to Eugene, OR.
“Everyone has these little kingdoms in their minds,” says Chris Wood, “and the songs on this album all explore the ways we find peace in them.”
Stream the Wood Brothers’ new album in full below. Head to the band’s website for tickets and tour info.
The Wood Brothers – Kingdom in My Mind