PERFORMANCES & TICKETS
The Wood Brothers & Colter Wall
Saturday, August 24 • 7:00 p.m.
TICKETS: Reserved $44 |Standing Room Only $44 | Lawn $39 | Child (1-12) Lawn $29
GATES OPEN: @ 5:45 Early Entry | 6:00 General Public
The Wood Brothers
“It’s the freest album we’ve done, the most independent album we’ve done, and was the most fun we’ve ever had making a record,” says Oliver Wood. “And most importantly, this is the most purely Wood Brothers’ album we’ve ever made.”
Indeed, The Wood Brothers’ sixth outing, ‘One Drop of Truth,’ dives headfirst into a deep wellspring of sounds, styles and influences. Whereas their previous outings have often followed a conceptual and sonic through-line, here the long-standing trio featuring brothers Oliver and Chris Wood along with Jano Rix treat each song as if it were its own short film. The plaintive, country-folk of the album’s opening track “River Takes The Town” gives way to the The Band-esque Americana soul of “Happiness Jones.” The wistful ballad “Strange As It Seems” floats on a cloud of stream of consciousness, standing in stark contrast to “Sky High”—a Saturday night barnburner built upon stinging slide guitar funk. “Seasick Emotions” is rife with turmoil, yet “Sparking Wine” is jaunty and carefree. The end result is undeniably The Wood Brothers’ most dynamic recording to date.
“Often, when you’re making an album in the traditional way, there will be a unifying concept, whether that be in the approach to the music stylistically or lyrically in terms over the overall narrative. And even though there are some themes that revealed themselves later, this one is all over the place,” explains Oliver Wood. “What I really love about this record is that each one of these songs has its own little world. There are diver-se sounds and vibes from one track to the next.”
Building off the success of their previous studio album, 2015’s ‘Paradise,’ which was dubbed “the warmest, most sublime and occasionally rowdiest Wood Brothers release yet,” by American Songwriter, the band found themselves at a fortuitous crossroads. Following a tour with Tedeschi Trucks Band, high profile festival dates and sold out headline shows, the band felt free from the cyclical album release, tour, write, record and do-it-all-over-again pressures of the traditional music business. With all three members living in Nashville affording easy access to each other and a wealth of local independent studios at their disposal, they started work in January of 2017 with a new approach.
“Instead of going into one studio and recording it all at the same time, we picked a couple of studios, and started to experiment,” says Chris Wood. “Sometimes we’d just make demos of songs to see if we got anything we liked. There was no pressure, and that really freed us up. We just did one or two songs a day, put it aside, let the songs simmer, and then we’d have a fresh perspective on what was working or not working. You need time to go by to gain objectivity.”
The band extended this approach to the mixing process, sending tracks to four different mixing engineers, each selected based on what the song demanded. Scotty Hard (who’s worked extensively with Medeski Martin & Wood, among others) was recruited for the “edgier, funkier tunes,” “Sky High” and “Happiness Jones.” Mike Poole (who worked on The Wood Brothers album ‘The Muse’) mixed “Sparkling Wine” and “Strange As It Seems.” Their old friend Brandon Belle from Zac Brown’s studio Southern Ground took on “Laughin’ Or Crying.” The remainder of the album was mixed by Grammy Award-winning engineer Trina Shoemaker, especially sought after by The Wood Brothers for her work with Brandi Carlile.
While the songs on ‘One Drop of Truth’ achieve the goal of standing on their own, a few common themes did, inevitably, emerge. Water—whether in a teardrop, a storm, a river or a libation—was being used as a metaphor in the search for truth and happiness. Chris Wood’s “Seasick Emotion,” one of two songs he sings on the collection serves as a prime example: “All the blue sky is gone / How can I get out of bed / This hurricane in my head / I’m just a boat in a storm / How can I know where to go / When everything that I know / Is already lost in the wind.”
“That one was written last fall during a hurricane, while at the same time the election was coming up, and there was all this crazy energy in the world,” Chris reveals. “I definitely got swept away emotionally by everything that was going on.”
Album opener, “River Takes the Town,” takes on both figurative and literal meaning. It was completed just as a series of hurricanes were decimating parts of the U.S.: “It's been a few days since I heard any word from you / and I don't sleep easy, I don't sleep easy / and the rain keeps comin’, the rain keeps comin’ / nothin's ever for certain / 'til the levee breaks down / the water comes in and the river / the river takes the town.”
“I remember hearing a news story about a flood in Shreveport, and I wrote the line ‘I hope the levee in Shreveport does what it's supposed to do,’” explains Oliver. “I was writing literally, at first, about how scary it must be when people lose power and communication with those they love. But then the lyrics became a metaphor for something more interpersonal. And by the end of this summer, it seemed to take on new meaning yet again.”
Though emotional struggle is a recurring thread, so is the comforting truth of how much wisdom comes from the hard times. The song “Happiness Jones”, was based on a news article Oliver read about how our society is addicted to happiness, antidepressants, and the distorted “happy” reality social media can depict. As a result, people feel like it’s unnatural to be sad, yet. sadness can be a gift: “All of my wisdom came from all the toughest days / I never learned a thing bein’ happy / all of my sufferin’ came / I didn’t appreciate it / I never learned a thing being happy.”
While the majority of ‘One Drop of Truth’ was written and recorded as a group, the standout track “Strange As It Seems,” described by Chris as, “a classic Oliver song,” was an exception.
“I had recorded it a couple of months before Chris and Jano added their parts, so I was excited to see what they would do with it. We talked a lot about it having a dreamlike quality to it. Chris has all these cool sound effects that he can make with the bowed bass, and then Jano played the melodica and the piano on it, and they added exactly the atmosphere that it needed,” explains Oliver. “Conceptually, I almost think of it like a Tim Burton movie, where you go to sleep, and you go into this dream world, to meet your lover, but you do so with purpose. You bring your wallet, you get dressed up, you’re going on a date. The idea being, that you rendezvous in the dream. One of my favorite things about any song is ambiguity, leaving it open to interpretation. Maybe the man and woman in this song are already married, and they’re on separate sides of the bed, and they’re disconnected, so they’re hoping to find a better version of a partner in their dreams. Or, maybe they are two lonely people, in separate places, finding each other in this dreamworld. But at the end of the song, the guy wakes up, and he goes down to the kitchen, and he’s with his wife and it’s a beautiful thing, and they dance in the light. So perhaps there’s also an element of hope, whether they’re lonely, or they’re disconnected, there’s still a connection there, sometimes you have to go to that other level to realize it.”
Fittingly titled, ‘One Drop of Truth,’ the latest entry in The Wood Brothers evolution finds three musicians being true to themselves. At a point in their career where most artists would be looking to strategically position themselves for even greater commercial success, they instead turned to artistic expression in service of the muse. In chaotic times when honesty is in short supply and ulterior motives seem to always be at play, The Wood Brothers put faith in themselves and ultimately their audience by writing and recording a collection of songs that is honest and pure. As they sing on the album’s title track: “Rather die hungry / than feasting on lies / Give me one drop of truth / I cannot deny.”
Opening Act: Colter Wall
After two years of relentless touring, Colter Wall wanted to make an album about home. Drawing on the stories of Saskatchewan, Canada, the young songwriter’s corner of the world takes shape throughout his second full-length album, Songs of the Plains. Produced by Dave Cobb in Nashville’s Studio A, the project combines striking original folk songs, well-chosen outside cuts, and a couple of traditional songs that reflect his roots growing up in the small city of Swift Current.
“One thing I’ve noticed over the last few years, in the United States and playing in Europe, is that people all over the world really don’t know much about Canada at all,” he says. “When you talk about Saskatchewan, people really have no idea. Part of it is because there are so few people there. It’s an empty place—it makes sense that people don’t know much about it. But that’s my home, so naturally I’m passionate about it. With this record, I really wanted people to look at our Western heritage and our culture.”
Indeed, Wall captures the spaciousness of the Canadian plains by relying on minimal production and his resonant baritone, which he’s strengthened into a mighty instrument in its own right. It’s a deep and knowing voice you wouldn’t expect of a man who’s not yet 24 years old.
Songs of the Plains begins with “Plain to See Plainsman,” a sincere portrait of a man whose rural heritage follows him into the greater world. As Wall lists the kinds of people he meets on the road – beautiful women, bikers, junkies, hippies—it’s easy to imagine the autobiographical component. The darkly comical “Saskatchewan in 1881” recalls a stubborn encounter between a Toronto businessman and a steadfast farmer who cultivates the province’s land. And although Wall racked up a body count on his prior album, this time he stops just short of killing the title character in “John Beyers (Camaro Song),” which he says is inspired by true events.
Evoking the most remote reaches of the plains, “Wild Dogs” sounds like a cinematic Colter Wall composition, but he actually first heard the song in Little Rock, Arkansas. Wall had just finished soundcheck in the fried chicken restaurant where he had a gig, when his buddy Ron Helm (nephew of Levon Helm) dropped in with Billy Don Burns, an esteemed songwriter who’s had cuts with many of the country legends of the 1970s. Burns wanted to pitch a few songs, and since the restaurant didn’t have a green room, Wall crawled into Burns’ backseat to listen. He found himself captivated by “Wild Dogs,” which has a minor-chord progression, no rhyme scheme, and the unique perspective of being told from the dog’s point of view. As a folk singer, Wall places equal importance on crafting songs as well as carrying older songs into the present day. “To me, a folk singer is somebody who sings folk songs—and it’s also someone who is writing their own music, while taking something from traditional folk songs. It’s somebody who sings those songs and is aware of passing down the traditions, whether it’s from their own version of the song or taking those old tunes and reinventing them.”
That sense of tradition is part of the reason he recorded Canadian folk hero Wilf Carter’s “Calgary Round-Up,” a snapshot of the iconic Calgary Stampede. Wall considers that annual event a cornerstone of Western Canadian culture because it pulls in families from the whole region. Besides that, he says, “I wanted to have a rodeo song and that one seemed to be perfect.”
To make it his own, he put a Western Swing feel to it and brought in steel guitarist Lloyd Green and harmonica player Mickey Raphael. The Songs of the Plains sessions also featured Chris Powell on drums and Jason Simpson on bass, with Colter and Cobb sharing acoustic guitar duty.
Through his favorite folk singer, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Wall discovered “Night Herding Song.” Because the song was a cappella, and because Wall doesn’t wear headphones when he records, he couldn’t nail down the campfire vibe inside the sprawling Studio A. So, for this track only, he went to Dave Cobb’s house, started a fire in the outdoor fireplace, and recorded it on the spot. The immediacy of his voice is unmistakable.
Wall says he spent the last three or four years trying to get better as a singer. By putting in the work, his range is now far more dynamic and expressive. He describes the vocal development as “less gravel, without losing the baritone that I’ve developed over the years.”
Meanwhile, Wall’s ability as a songwriter is especially clear in the second half of Songs of the Plains. “Wild Bill Hickok” distills that legendary gunfighter’s epic life and death into less than three minutes. Asked about inspiration for the song, Wall cites the HBO series Deadwood, as well as Tex Ritter’s “Sam Bass” from the cowboy singer’s 1960 album, Blood on the Saddle. While “The Trains Are Gone” laments the loss of an era, “Thinkin’ on a Woman” hints at a heartbreak as a truck driver concocts a lethal combination of whiskey, wine, and a mountain road. Wall turns far more introspective on “Manitoba Man,” a devastating song he wrote about a dark period in his life. The desperation in that track quickly gives way to the outrageous traditional song, “Tying Knots in the Devil’s Tail,” featuring verses from Blake Berglund and Corb Lund, spoons by Chris Powell, and a weird bottle of tequila by Dave Cobb.
“I went into the studio and knew exactly the story I wanted to tell,” Colter says of Songs of the Plains. “That made it easier on a sonic level and a musical level, to be able to tell Dave that it’s a record about my home. That changes it at the roots level because it’s like having a mission statement, saying, ‘All right, let’s make a Western album.’”
Pre-concert music: Pretty Gritty
Begins in the Britt Performance Garden at 6:00 p.m.
Hospitality Deck: Arbor House / Quady North