Album review: The Wood Brothers – Heart Is The Hero

The Wood Brothers new album
The Wood Brothers have a new album out this Friday

Paul Lewis writes:

I first came across The Wood Brothers back in 2015, when another artist I follow tweeted a recommendation of their new album at the time “The Muse” (it was actually already their fourth album). Since then, three more excellent albums have followed, and they’ve been a staple on the playlist of MVY radio (Martha’s Vineyard Radio), the go-to radio station, day-to-day, in our house.

As a result, “Alabaster” from their 2020, album “Kingdom In My Mind” will forever remind me of lockdown… but in a strangely fond and nostalgic way.  

That may partly be a result of The Wood Brothers’ uncanny ability to make their music uplifting and joyous, even when addressing the most unlikely subjects, or circumstances. 

Check out the trailer for the title track of the new album

Their 8th album, “Heart Is The Hero”, is released this Friday (April 14) on Honey Jar/Thirty Tigers. It’s a title that beautifully illustrates the core of all these songs. In fact, the bio on their own website starts “The Wood Brothers have learned to trust their hearts” underlining how fundamental that is to their music. 

Their music isn’t easy to categorise, but it is very easy to love. Their brew of Americana, country, folk, soul, gospel, funk, blues, and touches of New Orleans jazz at times, frequently reminds me of the great Little Feat. And there are few greater musical accolades than that comparison!

A tight band - The Wood Brothers
The Wood Brothers are Grammy-nominated leaders of American roots music

It’s a pleasingly tight and concise album of 10 songs – and very possibly their finest work to date. Unlike many overlong albums these days, it leaves you wanting to go back and listen all over again, rather overwhelming the listener with content. In the accompanying press release, Oliver Wood says “We love records that come from the era of less tracks and more care.” 

That philosophy inspired the band to record this album the old-fashioned way… straight to analog tape in a 16-track studio. Not for audiophile purposes, but simply to capture the spontaneity of the performances and limit the ability to go back and tinker afterwards – to be in the moment rather than having the digital option of working endlessly on “improvements” after recording, and potentially losing the magic in the process.

How wonderfully it paid off, there is a real sense of that “in the moment” vibe throughout the 10 songs, it’s very much alive, a band creating and playing together at the peak of their game. 

Pilgrim gets the album off to a great start

It’s hard to pick highlights as it’s an album of such a consistently high standard with a flow that sustains across each of the 10 songs, but “Pilgrim” (one of the first two singles to be released already) gets things off to a fantastic start with an acoustic driven, incredibly funky style, on a song about slowing down and taking the time to experience life (and it makes you want to dance!). That is followed by the title track “Heart Is The Hero”, a wonderful soulful, somehow sad and yet also uplifting song with a chorus lyric that seems to capture the essence of the whole album.

Worst Pain Of All” and “Line Those Pockets” address different themes of feeling empathy for others, each with that funky & soulful musical feel that pervades the whole album, there are even touches of reggae in the latter. There are fabulous horn additions to “Far From Alone” and “Rollin’ On”, a  tremendous piece of country soul, with touches reminiscent of Boz Scaggs, and Allen Toussaint’s brand of New Orleans R&B. And the band’s beautiful harmony vocals weave in and out of tracks throughout. 

Heart Is The Hero” is a consistently joyous and uplifting album. With their infectious music and thoughtful but positive lyrical themes, as the band themselves say, this is an album that touches “the heart, hips and head”. It may only be April, but I can confidently say it will be one of my albums of the year.

Heart Is The Hero” is released Friday, April 14 on CD, vinyl and all the usual streaming services. And there’s still time to pre-save it here

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