Thursday, January 18, 2007

“Chocolate on My Tongue” / The Wood Brothers
These guys are real brothers (I’m still annoyed that the Righteous Brothers and the Doobie Brothers lied to us) and in my humble opinion there’s something magical whenever guys who grew up in the same household make music together. They’ve both been plying their trade for years – guitarist Oliver as an Atlanta-based rock-blues artist (in the band King Johnson) and bassist Chris playing alt jazz in New York City (with Medeski, Martin & Wood) – but something finally inspired them to record together in 2005. Ways Not to Lose may be their first record as a brother act, but I sure hope that it won't be their last.

Having made their mark with other bands, the Woods have already learned one big lesson about art: Less is More. Several songs on Ways Not To Lose wrestle with questions of faith -- titles like “Tried and Tempted,” “The Truth Is the Light,” “Spirit,” “That’s What Angels Can Do” --- but we’re not being handed any smug conclusions. Instead, it’s as if Oliver Wood (the songwriter of the two) is taking stock halfway down the road of life, having a smoke and inspecting the holes in his shoes and trying to make sense of the map. Both the lyrics and the music have a sort of homey honesty that’s tremendously moving.

This song in particular is so stripped-down and laid-back, you feel like you’re in a backyard pickin’ session: it’s just Oliver on his acoustic guitar, singing in an effortless folky tenor, with Chris softly plucking his stand-up bass, or bowing a sustained low note in the chorus to add a little tension. The three verses are like candid Polaroids, each focused on some tiny mundane pleasure – licking chocolate ice cream on the front porch (how bluesy is that?), listening to Al Green on the hi-fi while soaking in the bathtub, or lounging in the front seat of his car with a good woman in his arms. “And that’s good enough reason to live / Good enough reason to live,” Oliver declares contentedly at the end of each scene, and -- well, he’s right, you know, and finding a reason to live is NO SMALL THING.

Things skew into a diminished key briefly in the bridge, as he muses – his voice lifting like a muted jazz trumpet -- “If I die young / At least I got some chocolate on my tongue” – but then magically the key resolves back into major. Yeah, we’re all gonna die someday, but for here and now, the holy trinity of chocolate, music, and love should keep us going. That sounds like a sacrament I can go for. I can just taste the chocolate now.

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