CD Review of Loaded by The Wood Brothers
Recommended if you like
Dan Bern, Van Morrison’s Moondance, Keller Williams
EMI/Blue Note
The Wood Brothers: Loaded

Reviewed by Jeff Giles


hen Chris and Oliver Wood teamed up for 2006’s Ways Not to Lose, the result was a delightfully unexpected bundle of low-key charm – one that left fans wondering when, or if, a follow-up would be forthcoming, given the superhuman touring and recording schedule maintained by Chris in his capacity as the bass-playing third of Medeski, Martin, and Wood. Seeing as how the funk/jazz trio is releasing three albums this year (and touring ‘til the wheels fall off), 2008 would seem a pretty unlikely year for a new Wood Brothers release – but here’s Loaded anyway: Nine originals and three covers, all run through the same folk/rock/jazz sausage grinder that made Ways Not to Lose such a treat.

By their own admission, the Wood Brothers made their first album on the fly, “innocently” and “without many expectations” – an attitude that works well enough the first time around, but, as the surviving members of the Traveling Wilburys could tell you, won’t carry through to Album Number Two. To their credit, the Woods haven’t tried to duplicate their debut’s loose-limbed simplicity; for Loaded, they recruited John Medeski to produce and brought in a slew of guest performers, including Amos Lee, David Mansfield, and the Be Good Tanyas’ Frazie Ford (not to mention Medeski himself on organ, melodica, and Wurlitzer).

On paper, it looks like there should be a big difference in sound between Ways Not to Lose and Loaded, but if you loved the first album, not to worry – none of the special guests have much of an impact on the duo’s bottom line. (Ford and Lee, billed as Oliver’s duet partners on “Don’t Look Back” and a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Angel,” respectively, might as well not even be there.) Fans of the sort of Starbucks-friendly jazz-ish pop that Blue Note specializes in lately should find Loaded a worthwhile soundtrack companion for many months of latte-sipping.

For everyone else, this will likely be an album of sporadic, limited charms. When the Woods are on – as they are for opening track “Lovin’ Arms” – they’re derivative in the best sense of the word, evoking sun-dappled highlights from classic ‘70s albums by artists like Dylan or Van Morrison. Their best songs have a natural, seemingly effortless warmth missing from too many rock records in the digital age; you’re liable to come away wishing you could listen to it on vinyl. Unfortunately, those moments don’t come consistently enough – the album, particularly during its back half, is bogged down with covers (“Angel,” “Buckets of Rain,” the standard “Make Me Down a Pallet on Your Floor”) and originals that never do much more than…wait for it…fade into the woodwork.

Still, all things considered, this is an above-average release, simply by virtue of the talent assembled and sheer ease of use; it only sounds like a letdown coming on the heels of Ways Not to Lose. They’ve shown what they’re capable of, and will doubtless do so again. In the meantime, you can safely add this to your “Sunday brunch” playlist.

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