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Loaded (2008)

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The Wood Brothers

A Wood Brothers record will always be a fail-safe purchase, the reason being that the musical instincts of Chris and Oliver Wood are as solid and unyielding as a 100-year-old oak. Loaded, the duo's second full-length, satisfies wholly, living up to and maybe past the promise of 2006's Ways Not to Lose. The biggest, most noticeable change is the depth of the songwriting: from the wistful, clear-eyed opening song, "Lovin' Arms," to the tender-hearted "Walkaway" to the quietly introspective closer, "Still Close," the brothers, who co-wrote for the first time on Loaded, reveal a range of feeling as broad and earthily sophisticated as their jazz- and blues-flecked riffs. Soul, not the sound but the entity, is a major component too: while most non-reggae artists falter hopelessly when attempting to switch gears and adopt the genre's sunshiny vibe, the Woods readily access a genuine breezy streak on "Angel," a cover of the Jimi Hendrix classic helped along by buddy Amos Lee. Another cover, of Dylan's "Bucket of Rain," also works a kind of authentic, deep-down magic -- the Woods claim it fully but somehow respectfully. But there is one original that captures the imagination and the ear with unrelenting might: "Postcards from Hell," a folky lyrical mini-masterpiece, is a testament to two musicians whose chemistry is so potent it ought to be bottled. ~ Tammy La Gorce