By James Calemine
The Wood Brothers recorded Live at the Barn on August 19, 2016. The Wood Brothers (Oliver Wood, Chris Wood & Jano Rix) maintained a close relationship with the late Levon Helm in the last decade. The group often performed at Helm’s ‘Midnight Rambles’. This collection counts as the band’s first performance at Levon’s since he passed away in 2012. Levon’s barn sits ten minutes away from the venerable house where the Band recorded their 1968 classic Music From Big Pink.
The Wood brothers grew up in Boulder, Colorado. Oliver moved to Atlanta, and soon joined bluesman Tinsley Ellis’ band and hit the road. Later, Oliver played with the Georgia band King Johnson. Meanwhile, Chris studied jazz, and soon formed Medeski, Martin and Wood. Eventually, the brothers decided they should be playing music together, and they released their first Blue Note album in 2006. Nashville serves as the group’s headquarters these days.
Live at the Barn follows the Wood Brothers critically acclaimed Paradise (2015) that was recorded at the Black Keys Dan Auerbach’s Nashville studio. Oliver Wood recently spoke about their connection with Levon Helm:
“We’re huge fans of Levon’s and count him as a big influence. Since we actually got to know him, his influence was more than musical—it was personal. He was one of those unique and powerful personalities, and I’ll always remember how gracious he was. We also got to know his daughter Amy quite well and have had great tours and collaborations with her. She’s a beautiful soul just like her dad, and we have fond memories of playing with both of them in that barn.”
On this live recording, the Wood Brothers covered the legendary song by Levon’s old group (The Band) “Ophelia”. Wood elaborated on his group’s connection to Helm’s Woodstock roots and how it transferred to a live audience: “It’s so intimate and casual that it feels less like a concert and more like a living room jam. The spirit in there is strong, from the history and the intent that Levon had when he built the place to all the great music and musicians that have played there.
“We’re just proud and honored and humbled that this album was made in the barn,” says Oliver. “I’d like to think we’re part of the same lineage as The Band. We certainly draw from a lot of the same roots, and they’ve always been an inspiration. Their music reminds us to be ourselves.”
The performance begins with the swinging “Mary Anna” that sounds like a soulful backyard singalong at sunset. “Got Loaded” emits a rhythmic wooden-sound that might be heard in some New Orleans barrelhouse. The soulful, yet gritty “Tried And Tempted” counts as one of the collection’s strongest compositions. This song captures the group’s deft musical versatility.
“Trouble In Mind”, an old blues number that Muddy Waters (who also recorded at Helm’s barn) often rendered, sounds fantastic. This tune augments the spirit of Jimmie Rodgers and Muddy Waters into one sonic quality. “Who The Devil” counts as an upbeat number that certainly will make the audience dance. The swampy “Wastin’ My Mind” retains a deep pocket groove that will surely inspire the women in any audience to shimmy and sway.
“Postcards From Hell” is a ballad dedicated to Levon containing the lyrics “I got a song I won’t sell/I don’t need a postcard from hell” that inspires a jubilant mood.
“Honey Jar” carries a gutbucket vibe that might be heard in some mean Memphis dive bar. “Ophelia” closes this midnight ramble on a rollicking note. It’s winter in Woodstock, and these songs sound quite nice with new logs on the fire, a full bottle on the table and the sweet smell of woodsmoke in the air. Live at the Barn finds The Wood Brothers right at home in Levon Helm’s studio on Overlook Mountain…