The Wood Brothers give their Americana a groove that jams the blues 

Funky Fusion

Funky Fusion

Maybe you haven't noticed, but the funk, jam-band and folk traditions have been blurring into something strange and post-post-modern, and you could call it Americana. The relaxed, sophisticated and refreshingly diffident music of The Wood Brothers is in the line of such proto-Americana groups as The Band and Little Feat, with a nod to the New Orleans funk of The Meters. They've toured with the biggest funk-jam-band-country-folk group in the world, The Zac Brown Band, and perhaps all Oliver and Chris Wood need is a Nashville veneer — you know, songs that are about their potential jam-band-country-Budweiser-pothead audience. But it shouldn't be that simple, and it's not.

For The Wood Brothers, playing their elegant take on funky folk music is a way to give a nod to such genre-busting artists as Ray Charles and Allen Toussaint, both of whom have effortlessly hyphenated R&B to include country, rock and pop. "We actually listen to a lot of Ray Charles these days," says guitarist and singer Oliver Wood. "He's a great example of someone who could fuse together all kinds of stuff — blues, jazz and country. I'm also a big fan of The Avett Brothers. I met and saw those guys when they were just gettin' going, and it was cool to watch that develop."

On last year's full-length Smoke Ring Halo, The Wood Brothers sound like the children of The Meters and Willie Tee hoisting a Pimm's cup to the legacy of, well, Americana — the record grooves impeccably while evoking a shared memory of reliable chord progressions and melancholy sentiments. Chris Wood's fat, laconic bass lines intertwine with drummer Tyler Greenwell's soulful beats, while Oliver adds the kind of rhythm-guitar licks favored by The Meters' Leo Nocentelli or the New Orleans guitarist Walter "Wolfman" Washington.

Produced by keyboardist John Medeski — with whom Chris has played for years in the jazz-funk group Medeski Martin & Wood — The Wood Brothers' first two full-lengths established the template for their latest record. Smoke Ring Halo's title track has the slightly tongue-in-cheek feel of the imitation Americana of an old Brinsley Schwarz record — you could hear The Wood Brothers covering the English group's "Country Girl."

Elsewhere, the record demonstrates The Wood Brothers' grasp of futuristic blues. A nervous guitar figure drives "Made It up the Mountain," while "When I Was Young" benefits from Chris' bass playing and Oliver's jangling guitar. Smoke Ring is a great modern funk record, but it abounds with oddball harmonies and some interesting textures courtesy of alto saxophonist Marcus Henderson.

Zac Brown himself guests on background vocals on one track, while Medeski adds organ to three songs. If Smoke Ring Halo doesn't aim for the mass appeal of Brown's music, that doesn't mean The Wood Brothers are aiming above the heads of their audience. Oliver seems aware of their place in the Americana firmament — in addition to touring with Brown, they've played Nashville's Music City Roots program and appeared at Memphis' Folk Alliance.

"We really had a great time," Wood says of their recent appearance at Folk Alliance. "We hadn't really done anything like that before, and it's so cool, how people are boppin' around and playing in hotel rooms." He says the band has a new EP, Live, Vol. 1: Sky High, set for May release on Brown's Southern Ground Artists label. What's more, they plan to enter the studio in Nashville in April to record another chapter in their ongoing effort to remove the barriers from American music.


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