If you cannot see the music player below, download the free Flash Player.
Sibling sympathy is a key component to the Wood Brothers’ rootsy sound: On debut Ways Not to Lose, there’s an energy and richness to the duo’s simple, straightforward arrangements. Musical talent runs through the Wood family, coming from the father, who came up in the Boston folk scene, down to brothers Oliver and Chris. Oliver got his break as the second guitarist to Atlanta bluesman Tinsley Ellis. A few years later, he founded the funky, horn-driven blues outfit King Johnson. Meanwhile, his more famous little brother Chris hooked up with Billy Martin and John Medeski, and his bass remains a staple of their vibe jam-hard jazz legacy as Medeski, Martin and Wood.
Then in 2004, these separate paths crossed. During a family gathering, the brothers jammed casually to covers and a few King Johnson tunes. The feeling was undeniable, leading to a demo, some gigs and a deal with Blue Note. The duo’s debut surveys a wide range of Americana styles including spare Appalachian folk, country-blues, delta and Big Easy blues accents, with a percolating pulse keyed to Chris’ lithe, slithering bass lines (with occasional help from drummer Kenny Wolleson). Oliver’s reedy, raspy style suggests Leon Russell or Bill Withers, while his acoustic rings and sways through these ambling numbers. It’s an easy, gentle, comfortable affair.
Though the songs have particular effervescence musically, the lyrical matter is somewhat consumed with spiritual concerns. From “Tried and Tempted” to “The Truth is Light,” there’s a gospel-like sense of hope in the face of ongoing troubles. On the latter, a shimmying rag-blues track, Oliver sings, “When your faith is gone/ give it one more day.” On “Luckiest Man,” he adds, “Running is useless/ Fighting is foolish/ You’re not going to win/ But still you’re the luckiest man.” These homespun, old-fashioned dictums feel somewhat cloying spread over an entire album, but they’re appropriate to such a fraternal affair. After all, family may know best.
The Wood Brothers play with Michael Holland at Local 506 Friday, Nov. 30, at 10 p.m. Tickets are $10-$12.