If you go
• What: The Wood Brothers, in concert.
• When: 8 p.m. Feb. 7.
• Where: McMenamins Crystal Ballroom, 1332 W. Burnside St., Portland.
• Cost: $20 to $22 through Cascade Tickets, 800-514-3849 or http://cascadetickets.com
• Information: 503-225-0047 or http://crystalballroompdx.com
Before brothers Oliver and Chris Wood started their own group, the Wood Brothers, nine years ago, each had already pursued long and markedly different musical paths.
Chris Wood gained a good degree of fame as bassist in the adventurous jazz-rooted group Medeski Martin & Wood, which released more than a dozen albums since the group debuted in 1992.
Oliver Wood, meanwhile, cut his teeth playing guitar in bluesman Tinsley Ellis' group in the early '90s before moving on to co-found the R&B/blues-rooted group, King Johnson, which cranked out five albums over its next decade.
By the time the brothers decided in 2004 they wanted to start making music together, each had accumulated a considerable and diverse library of musical influences and knowledge.
And that's a big reason why as the Wood Brothers, Oliver and Chris (now joined by percussionist/keyboardist Jano Rix) have been able to create an uncommonly eclectic range of music within what some might consider a fairly limited style of music, an earthy, largely acoustic sound footed in traditional folk and blues, but filtered through a host of other sounds and styles.
Having so many musical references, Oliver Wood said in a mid-January phone interview, has been a real asset for the trio.
"Chris is really into African and Latin music, for instance," he said. "And Jano is really into reggae, and I've always been into all different kinds of blues and gospel and obscure stuff. And we've all sort of turned each other on to stuff. And there's so much good stuff. Sometimes it really helps you get out of a box or a rut by just mixing all of these different influences and trying different recipes.
"So for instance, the song 'Losing Streak' (from the latest Wood Brothers CD, "The Muse"), it's cool because, Chris calls it porch dub music," Oliver Wood said. "He came up with this very dub, reggae-ish kind of bass line. Yet, it's certainly not a reggae song at all, but just the bass line has an element of that, and then the rest of it is kind of a weirdly tuned piano and tremolo guitar. I don't know, I feel like it helps us get out of sounding typical or things that to us sound like oh, we've already done that or somebody else has already done that."
"The Muse," which was produced by Buddy Miller (an accomplished songwriter and musician in his own right) is arguably the most developed example yet of the group's ability to create a richly varied collection of songs that still sounds like it shares a common foundation and aesthetic. It's the group's fourth studio album.
"Neon Tombstone" at its core, is a fairly simple sounding folk-rock tune, but the song gets a little New Orleans ju-ju from its boozy horns and melodica. The piano-accented "Wastin' My Mind," meanwhile, sounds like a great lost song by the Band. Hints of gospel filter through "Sing About It," a tune with a back-porch-jam feel whose lyrics talk about music being a balm for all that ails people.
The sunny country-folk of "Keep Me Around" gets a jazzy touch from Chris Wood's inventive bass line. On "Sweet Maria" and the title song, things get stripped back to acoustic guitar, bowed bass and little more, a move that puts each song's emotional lyrics front and center. "Honey Jar" and "Who The Devil," on the other hand, find the Wood Brothers rocking things up a bit. The former is a jaunty, harmonica-spiced romp, while the latter tune is a bluesy standout with a rapid fire, highly rhythmic chorus.
Having followed the Oct. 1 release of "The Muse" with a tour last fall, the Wood Brothers are now back for a second round of shows and feeling good about how the group has been sounding on stage.
"We're definitely featuring a lot of music from our new record," Oliver Wood said. "So we're excited to be playing that music. It's very fresh for us and we're still high on that record. So we're certainly playing stuff from that, but we make it a point to mix in a lot of old stuff from the first three records.
"It's kind of fun because we can mix in old songs, and what's really fun for us is to sort of update and revamp songs every once in awhile," he said. "So we have some old songs, but we play them quite differently than we used to play (them). For instance, we might take an acoustic mellow song and make it more into an electric rocking song and visa versa. For that matter, we do some of the songs from our new record a little differently than the way they came out on the record. Anyway, there are old and new songs and old and new arrangements."