Solo endeavors for some musicians might almost seem predestined, and in some cases the effort can elucidate just how much a certain individual has meant to the success of the outfits they’ve represented.
And while no one would ever want him to stop making music with his brother, Chris, it comes as no surprise to see Oliver Wood — one half of the siblings comprising The Wood Brothers — embarking on his own this spring in support of his debut album, Always Smilin’.
Performing with his trio as Oliver Wood & Friends at Rams Head On Stage in Annapolis recently, Wood proved himself to be every bit the diverting, charismatic lead vocalist and the spirited, organically talented guitar player who’s helped make The Wood Brothers a pillar of alternative folk and roots music for almost 18 years.
At Rams Head On Stage on April 20, Wood was joined by dynamic bassist Ted Pecchio and longtime Wood Brothers percussionist and multi-instrumentalist Jano Rix, and the world-class group impressed a crowded Rams Head On Stage with a thrilling set of music pulling from Oliver’s first album, the Wood Brothers catalogue and even a surprise cover along the way.
Stream Oliver Wood’s premiere solo studio album, Always Smilin’, via Spotify:
“Needed Time,” a bonus track on Oliver’s 2021 studio release, kicked off the night as a longing, divine piece that quickly grabbed the audience’s attention with Jano standing to play a Melodica and Oliver finger-picking the inspirative rhythm on what appeared to be his 1930s Stella acoustic guitar and then gently folding his ever so comforting voice into the progression for a delightful start to the set.
“I’ve got a lot of good memories of this place,” Wood told the audience. “Really fond memories of playing some opening shows here, for Brandi Carlisle when she was teeny and we didn’t have grey hair … This is a special spot, so thank y’all for being here.”
Following up with The Wood Brothers’ favorite “Chocolate On My Tongue,” the room got its first taste of rethought, reinvigorated takes on some of the most popular songs Wood and his younger brother created through their successful ongoing partnership that began in earnest back in 2004.
“We’re going to mess with it a little bit, do some covers, some songs off the album — they’re both on it,” Oliver gestured to Rix and Pecchio who are some of the standouts musicians credited on the record. The three of them managed to take up most of the stage, and this trio’s polished sound was abundant and thriving within the West Street venue space.
A vivid and stimulating take on Joni Mitchell’s “Black Crow” showed the range in Oliver’s pitch through the twists of this mysteriously provocative track, and then a swollen version of The Wood Brothers’ “Spirit” rendered as magnificent and psychedelic — Ted’s bass was startling and thunderous; working from his elaborate drum and noise factory, with keys, kick-powered cowbell and more, Jano concocted enormous crashes, absolutely rocking the seated crowd as Oliver threw his head back to chant the absorbing chorus: “Let the spirit move you.”
“This is a springtime song here,” Wood said before delivering what was not just one of the sweetest songs of the night, but also a bit of an early Mother’s Day gift — The Wood Brothers original “Lovin’ Arms” was written by the siblings as a tribute to their mom, Renate, whose life was taken in 2007 by ALS 13.
At Rams Head On Stage, the sentiment in Oliver’s voice reminded everyone of the authentic rationale behind his and his brother’s music, and to hear him present it in reworked fashion with two close friends made for a gripping live experience.
Watch Oliver Wood & Friends perform his 2021 release “Fine Line” live at The Studio Nashville via YouTube:
“Mary Anna,” another Wood Brothers favorite, showcased Oliver’s expression in imploring fashion, and this grooving rhapsody culminated in a glowing harmony, as Ted threw his head back, perfectly complementing the head singer with just a slightly altered intonation to carry this beloved, begging chorus.
Additional Oliver Wood originals, like “Fine Line” with its grooving, peculiar strut and “Kindness” with its gleaming gospel motif and engrossing ascension, provided further demonstration of Oliver’s productivity and his artistry during days that have been challenging for artists.
Oliver shared that he’s been reading a lot lately about iconic musicians and even explored some writing done by some of his favorites, including the late David Bowie, and he shared a passage that stood out to him in describing creativity:
“… ‘You have to walk out into the deep water, where your feet don’t touch anymore — that’s when the magic happens.’ He (Bowie) didn’t mention if people should be watching. … Whatever, we already have your money.”
The crowd loved him, and even seemed to feel at home in his presence. As the charming frontman of The Wood Brothers, fans became familiar with him long ago — his thoughtful, dry humor and his gentle, relaxed demeanor only making their music that much more heartrending and uplifting, a treasured antidote to dark forces. His appearance in Annapolis showed his own sound to offer the same quality reprieve.
Watch a video for Oliver Wood’s “Kindness” created by Joel Meeks:
Long, lean and with his hair dangling down over either shoulder and his royal blue dress shirt, the campestral bluesman at times had the aura of a contemporary shaman. He swapped guitars along the way, using the slide on his Guild T-100D, too, and he was playful with his bandmates through the set. He shared insight into their relationship through that engagement.
“My spiritual brother,” he referred to Rix, who appeared freakishly skilled in drumming with his left hand, playing a keyboard with his right, and still adding to the vocal mix. He would play an acoustic guitar by holding it upright, strapped to his body. “Jono’s guitar is actually shitty. … It’s called a ‘shit-ar.’”
The shaking heads, the laughs — it spoke to deep and fruitful friendships.
“Has anyone noticed that Ted’s bass is actually a ukulele?” Oliver pointed out some of the unconventional instruments and rigging they brought with them.
Oliver, who in the mid-1990s founded the Atlanta-based King Johnson before reuniting with his brother years later, thanked the Naptown ticketholders for their attentiveness and treating him and his mates so kindly.
“Is that what this is? Civilized Annapolis?” he asked before capping off the set with two revised Wood Brothers classics, “Postcards From Hell” and “Luckiest Man,” both executed elegantly and with fervor. An illustration of how these songs can be expanded or reexamined like old standards, “Postcards From Hell” popped with a bit of controlled distortion, while “Luckiest Man” felt just a bit bluesier than some might have remembered it.
Hustling right back out for an encore, the crew treated Rams Head On Stage to yet another amplified Wood Brothers favorite, with “Atlas” exploding into an all-out jamboree, highlighted by Oliver leaning back, unleashing wild slide licks on his Guild.
As has already been proposed, Oliver’s album and this tour gives a necessary fix to the growing number of Wood Bros. devotees. But what it also does is provide an important runway for Oliver, who stands high in stature not just on stage but as a crafter of persuasive and extraordinary songs.
But longtime fans of Oliver and Chris should fret not — The Wood Brothers aren’t going anywhere. In fact, they’ve got shows booked through the rest of 2022, including a local appearance at Wolf Trap set for August 12.
So rather, the most intense fans really can embrace and celebrate Oliver’s newly offered material for what it is: a wondrous outcome of his hard work that has spanned four decades and covered tremendous ground.
Chocolate On My Tongue (The Wood Brothers)
Black Crow (Joni Mitchell)
Spirit (Wood Bros)
Lovin’ Arms (Wood Bros)
Mary Anna (Wood Bros)
The Battle Is Over (But The War Goes On) (Oliver’s take on an old protest song)
One More Day (Wood Bros)
Came from Nothing
Climbing High Mountains (Trying to Get Home)
Soul of This Town
Postcards From Hell (Wood Bros)
Luckiest Man (Wood Bros)
Atlas (Wood Bros) (encore)
Here are images of Oliver Wood and his trio as well as the night’s opener, Dori Freeman with Nicholas Falk, performing at Rams Head On Stage in Annapolis on April 20, 2022. All photos copyright and courtesy of Casey Vock.
Dori Freeman with Nicholas Falk