Wood Brothers – The Muse – Harmony-filled Americana Album of the Year Candidate

It’s not every day a music writer gets a chance to hear such an accomplished band that can still be considered “on the rise.” The Wood Brothers, an Americana and/or folk rock band fronted by Boulder, Colorado natives Chris and Oliver Wood, have deep jazz influences on what feels like a distinctly American album. From serious heartfelt reflections to whimsical dance tunes, the Wood Brothers offer a true listening experience in their latest release, The Muse. It’s an album sure to please the widest of audiences.

What immediately struck me about the sound of the band is the solid and unique lead vocal. From there, the fantastic instrumentation serves to fill in a distinctive and delightful sound. The bluesy “Wastin’ my mind” that opens that album gets listeners in the mood for what is to come. It reflects brilliant artistry, clever songwriting, and a toe-tapping overall sound. It introduces what’s sure to be a crowd-pleasing album and band.

The second track “Neon Tombstone” is the stuff of legend. “I’m not ready for heaven, so let me off of this train.” The whole concept is about wanting to give life another shot. In a musical world ripe with complaints about the difficulties of life, it’s refreshing to hear a message that embraces life so tightly. Musically the horns really make the track, providing a tension-building crescendo that really highlights the gospel-inspired vocal harmonies. It’s an instant “song of the year” track for me.

The calypso beat on “Sing about it” is a true musicians lament. “Sing about your troubles and it just might pass.” Even though these boys are from Colorado, there’s a clear New Orleans jazz influence on the track (and tucked away throughout the album). The interwoven lyrical and musical components of this song, among the others, is just so well conceived. When artists ask me how they can improve songwriting, this is how. Write songs that connect the emotion with the words. It’s not easy, but the Wood Brothers figured it out on “Sing about it.”

I challenge listeners of this album to hear “Honey Jar” without picture everyone’s favorite honey addict, Winnie the Pooh. “There’s a honey bear after your spoon…” It’s decidedly non-child-friendly song, more about desiring love, but it’s still about a bear desiring honey. It’s cool. The following title track has a different musical quality, beginning with an acoustic guitar instead of the full blues band. But that’s one of the highlights of the album is that it’s so versatile and so phenomenally well written. There’s an accordion part that blends with the bass line so well it’s spin tingling. This is the kind of song that needs to be playing on popular radio. It’s the second “song of the year” candidate… on the same album… by the same guys. Amazing.

“Keep me around” is a feel good jam song about love and relationship. It’s a nice change of pace on the album and sonically just, well, feels good. It’s got a plodding rhythm that seems like it could provide the backdrop to walking the Appalachian Trail or something similar. I guess it’s adventurous… which might be representative of adventuring through life with someone you love. It’s a good song.

“I got loaded” is a nice cruising song. It has some understated but great vocal blending that help to complement the “feel alright” key lyric. It’s a song, essentially, about getting drink or high, but there’s an equally high chance that these guys are just loaded on good music. From the aggressive acoustic guitar to the brilliant harmonica, it’s a song that defies simple description. It’s both relaxing and powerful. It works really well.

The minor chord that starts “Who the devil” is unsettling, intentionally so I would imagine. It continues to develop out an unconventional sound that sustains the song through a jazzy and transcendent track. “Yeah, you’re stuck with the blues… who the devil spins the world around?” It seems like the kind of bouncing song that would keep a dancefloor bouncing even with an unconventional sonic structure. “It is what it is because the world’s gonna keep on changing.” I’m not sure of the philosophical root of the song, but it seems be casting a vision for perseverance in the midst of a confusing life. I can get on board with that. Oh and the drum solo… nice! “Do you gotta be lost to be found?” Good question.

The concluding song is “Firewater,” an Americana track reminiscent of something Mandolin Orange might produce, it’s a wonderful roots country lament. The harmonies are incredible, the overall sound is endearing, and it’s the perfect end to a fantastic album. The storytelling ethos of the song, complete with backing stand up bass and horns, just feels distinctly American. This is a song of the people and makes for the third “song of the year” candidate on the album.

I’ve not been so thoroughly impressed by a full album in a long time. There are no “skip” tracks and it reflects true artistry. These guys aren’t trying to sound like any other bands. They truly own the art of the music styles they reflect and they’ve made them their own. If the readers of this review happen to be in a band of their own, I encourage spending some real quality time with The Muse. It’s a classic for this age. If anyone reading this review is a voter for national awards, please please give The Muse consideration for best new artist or album of the year. I know it will be a contender for album of the year for me.

If you’re a fan of Americana, folk, or roots music (basically everything we write about on this site), please give this album a listen. If we rated albums with numbers, I would give this the max score. It’s fantastic from beginning to end. Please give it a listen and share with friends.

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