Album Review: Oliver Wood, ‘Always Smilin”

There’s plenty of music to keep us smilin’ for a long time on Oliver Wood’s funky, bluesy, soulful album. When the pandemic forced the Wood Brothers off the road, he spent most of 2020 gathering songs he’d written and jamming with friends. He’s joined on the album by guests including, among others, Phil Madeira on piano and organ, Susan Tedeschi and Freda McCrary (The McCrary Sisters) on vocals, John Medeski on organ, Phil Cook on guitar, and Ric Robertson on Wurlitzer, mandolin, and guitar.

The album kicks off with the slow burning, Little Feat-esque “Kindness,” which opens with the album’s title phrase; the song’s a luminous meditation, with a gospel-inflected chorus, on the presence of kindness in the midst of a world where meanness and hostility is the rule. The trills and runs of a jazz piano roll around gospel organ and soul piano strides on the down-home “Roots”; it’s as if Leon Russell met up with Gregg Allman to lead these artists in a jam. “Get the Blues” sways and rolls along a rousing second-line rhythm, while the shimmering, slow sliding blues “Come from Nothing” slithers along a bed of greasy slide guitar riffs. “Fine Line” struts along with a Billy Preston-like funkiness, while the bluesy jazz of “The Battle is Over (But the War Goes On)” rumbles along a funked-up rock line, punctuated by a blaring harmonica that mimics the cry of the human heart. New Orleans soul drips off “Soul of This Town”; the song spirals higher and higher as vocals and instruments swirl around one another, transporting us to an emotional plane where we mourn a town that gussies itself up to attract outsiders, losing its soul along the way; the song reminds us that the bricks and stones don’t make up the soul of a place. The album closes with the gospel scorcher “Climbing High Mountains (Tryin’ to Get Home).”

Always Smilin’ invites us into Wood’s musical circle for an evening of hand-clapping, foot-stomping, singing, and dancing, and we’re bound to leave the circle transported and with a big smile on our face.

Keep Smilin’ is available HERE.


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