When artists describe their record as “raw, honest, immediate, and vulnerable”, as The Wood Brothers have christened their eight studio album, Heart is the Hero, it’s often parlance for instrumentally or aesthetically sparse – an acoustic guitar and minimally styled cover art.
Yet most artists aren’t as musically gifted as The Wood Brothers, who recorded this album in real time, direct to analog. Take, for instance, the skill of band member Jano Rix, who can and does play the drums with his left hand and the piano with his right on songs like ‘Worst Pain Of All’; or the selection of horns they take to, which are among the melange of instruments that make an appearance on the album.
“The heart is the hero of every song”, they sing on the title track, honouring the album’s core aim of capturing the spirit of the band’s live shows. Make no mistake – it works. Jaunty, jangly, jazzy – whatever you want to call it – this album operates like a live show: mesmerising and a lot of good fun. With a range of influences, from jazz to soul to country to folk, all underlined with that characteristic plucky bass throughout, you’ll leave this record clamouring to see them live.
Lead vocalist Oliver Wood’s voice is as soulful and reedy as ever, gentle and soothing on songs like the plaintive and folk-driven ‘Between The Beats’, confident and instructive on tracks like ‘Pilgrim’, which reminds us to slow down and “smell every flower on the path”. The understated groove of ‘Rollin’ On’ prescribes a healthy dose of grit, reminding us of what we’ve already survived and the power of just keeping on.
Chris Wood has his turn leading vocals on songs like ‘Mean Man World’, where he dips his toe into political waters, reflecting and fretting about his experiences of parenthood. “I’m a father in a changing world / Some changes are good for a little girl / Some changes will make her life hell / A long line of fathers that didn’t do very well”, he sings, as the unified and familiar camaraderie of the chorus’ vocals match the feel of a protest song.
Elsewhere, songs like ‘Line Those Pockets’ remind us that money can’t buy happiness, but that doesn’t mean we should turn our heads from inequality. It features some of the album’s finer rhymes, singing of “Bus boys scrapin’ by sweepin’ up the restaurants / Little women sippin’ wine like some debutants”.
Live shows are uncertain, and so are the times we live in, but the band remain hopeful. On the bluesy ‘Far From Alone’ they reassure us that “you may be lonesome but you’re so far from alone”. They’re right, there’s safety in numbers; whether that’s a crowd of thousands at a live show, an entire production studio’s- worth of staff, or, like The Wood Brothers, three guys, six hands, a room full of instruments and a will to say something honest with them.