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Ways Not To Lose (2006)

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The Wood Brothers

The Wood Brothers' debut album is a tense and hushed affair full of weighted lyrics peppered with words like truth, faith, spirit, and soul and more angels than you can shake a stick at, and each song seems tipped right at the edge of indecision and confusion. These are largely Oliver Wood's songs, with his brother Chris Wood (of Medeski, Martin & Wood) adding bass and backing vocals and Kenny Wollesen bringing light drums and percussion to five tracks. Oliver seems frozen in a kind of perpetual spiritual dilemma on these tracks, but what keeps the best of these songs from being exercises in self-centered ennui is the dogged hope that shines through between the cracks. The opener, "One More Day," is a perfect example, as it charts the waters of bleak desolation but then slides into the chorus, which goes "Just when your faith is gone/Give it one more day." The music itself is sparse and languid, a sort of folk-blues mix that isn't in too much of a hurry to resolve itself, which gives these cuts a great deal of tension. It all sounds sad and tragic, but then again, the lyrics ultimately lean toward a hopeful future. Among the highlights on Ways Not to Lose are "Glad," a study in tempered ambivalence, an impressive and atmospheric version of the traditional folk hymn "Angel Band," and the wheezing, ominous "Where My Baby Might Be." There isn't unhinged joy in any of these songs, but the promise that better days might be just around the corner if only the right decisions are made floats over everything here. Ways Not to Lose sounds like a bleak record, and it moves at a relentlessly slow pace, but just as the title carries a kind of guarded hope in happy endings, it believes in the possibilities that personal angels are everywhere in life. ~ Steve Leggett