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Sep 10, 2008

After 20 years apart, siblings Chris and Oliver reunited to form The Wood Brothers. Now, audiences nationwide are reaping the fruits of their reunion.

By Drew Stoga

On their latest release, Loaded, The Wood Brothers alternate between heartwarming and heartbreaking, employing bittersweet harmonies and vintage guitars to create songs of love and loss, redemption and joy.
After hearing the record or attending one of the duo’s dynamic live performances, it’s obvious that the resulting seamless blend of blues, folk and country fits the duo, considering their past.
Although Chris and Oliver Wood were raised together in Boulder, Colo., they spent decades apart with little contact, separated both geographically and musically. But after pursuing their individual careers, these two master musicians have combined forces, driven by their sibling bond. The result is a sound all their own.
Chris’s path in those years of separation led him to New York City, where he played bass for the genre-defying experimental jazz trio Medeski Martin and Wood.
Oliver, meanwhile, driven by his penchant for the sounds of the South, settled in Atlanta, where he sang and played guitar for the blues band King Johnson (named after the many bluesmen who share the surnames King and Johnson).
The brothers criss-crossed the country separately for years until a shared bill led to the Southerner, Oliver, sitting in at a performance with his younger, Yankee brother’s band.

Watch our concert footage of the brothers, as they talk about their reunion and the future of The Wood Brothers.

“It was almost like watching myself play,” Chris remembers of their onstage reunion. “It was creepy, but it made sense. We had the same job, and we had become equally good at it.” Soon after the fateful gig, they began jamming together on family vacations. Oliver recalls that in the beginning of their collaboration, they “actually did not know each other that well,” but Chris quickly adds that “it felt good, because we were brothers.”
The Wood Brothers’s 2006 EP, Live at Tonic, which captures the brothers’ first-ever live performance, speaks volumes of their musicianship and natural chemistry.
Encouraged by the warm reception received by the EP, the brothers entered the studio with producer (and Chris’s band mate) John Medeski. The resulting Ways Not to Lose, a mostly acoustic album, was a minimalist affair. The album was a critical success, and the brothers began touring together for the first time in their careers.
A few years—and many gigs—later, Loaded documents the ongoing convergence of these two musicians. While previous releases consisted mostly of songs Oliver had written before reuniting with his brother, this time, the songwriting credits are largely shared.
The latest album is suitably titled: it is literally loaded with the band’s ever-expanding sound, courtesy of the multitude of musicians who contributed to the album. Along with producing the entire recording, Medeski plays organ and keyboards, while Medeski Martin and Wood drummers Kenny Wolleson and Billy Martin provide the percussion. Additional vocals were added by singer-songwriters Amos Lee and Pieta Brown, as well as The Be Good Tanyas’s Frazey Ford.
Chris explains that the use of guest musicians “was not pre-meditated, but the songs were crying out for it.” The result is a more cohesive and plump sound than that heard on the band’s previous recordings. More than ever before, The Wood Brothers come across as a fully formed band.

Double Lives: Even when not playing together, The Wood Brothers stay busy making music with two of the best bands in the business. In our interactive graphic, find out about their other bands.

Loaded also has a terrific sense of both darkness and light. Moody tracks like “Lovin’ Arms,” on which Oliver laments, “God damn/You’re a boy not a man/When you miss those lovin’ arms,” are balanced with the funky, gospel-injected optimism of “Pray Enough” and the standard, “Make Me Down a Pallet on Your Floor.”
In a blog entry, Chris explains what brought the brothers together to create an album filled with both sadness and joy, with a pervasive bittersweet mood: “Soon after we formed The Wood Brothers, our mother came down with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Since then, Oliver and I have seen a lot more of each other. We were able to write and develop new songs together. That’s why most of the songs are co-written. Watching our mother deteriorate and eventually die had a big influence on the writing. I feel like the music is more inspirational than sad. Our mother couldn’t have left us more gracefully.”
As they continue to make up for lost time and come together with their music and their relationship, there’s every reason to expect that more gritty and funky music will be on the way.

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