Oliver Wood – Always Smilin’ (Honey Jar/Thirty Tigers)
By John B. Moore
Oliver Wood, co-founder of The Wood Brothers, didn’t intentionally set out to make his first solo record during the midst of the global pandemic lock downs.
“The year before the pandemic, people would come through Nashville where I live and I’d set up a co-write or a jam in our studio, just to do some stuff outside of my own band,” Oliver said recently. “There wasn’t an album in mind. I just wanted to be creative. But when the pandemic happened, the songs started building up.”
Those who made the trek to his Nashville home over the years to contribute to the record included
Susan Tedeschi, Hiss Golden Messenger’s Phil Cook, John Medeski, Phil Madeira, and singer/songwriter Carsie Blanton. And while some of the songs ended up being recorded long distance others were pulled together face to face via impromptu jam sessions making for a surprisingly cohesive collection of songs.
And those songs, 11 in all, make for one remarkably satisfying album. Those expecting a huge departure away from The Wood Brothers sound on Always Smilin’ are sure to be disappointed. But they shouldn’t be; for the past decade-and-a-half, Oliver, along with his brother Chris and Jano Rix have build an impressive reputation of churning out a steady stream of nearly flawless record after record of their folk/Americana/Gospel hybrid, paired with sublime live sets. Always Smilin’ is just another groove-heavy album in the same vein, while leaning a bit more into the Blues sound the band has flirted with over the past few albums.
The opening track, “Kindness,” sets the tone right from the start with a danceable folk number about a man who can’t stop smiling because he considers kindness his religion. Not overly deep, but smartly written and a fun song nonetheless, all trademarks of Oliver. Elsewhere, he slathers New Orleans-inspired horns on the standout track “Get The Blues.” The record closes on an inspired cover of the Gospel standard “Climbing High Mountains (Tryin’ To Get Home).” Not a huge step away from the sound he and his bandmates have perfected in The Wood Brothers for the past 15 years, but a positive step regardless.
Oliver Wood – Always Smilin’