(Calabro) The Wood Brothers have released their eighth studio album, Heart Is The Hero, available today via Honey Jar/Thirty Tigers. Recorded analog to 16-track tape direct from the studio floor with nary a computer in sight, brothers Oliver and Chris Wood and longtime bandmate Jano Rix stripped back their sound to its elemental core, focusing on the impact of the performances over studio perfection. The results sonically reflect lyrical themes of presence, empathy, and trust that inform the collection's ten songs. A primarily acoustic-driven effort, its earthy and energized performances are matched by the visceral songwriting that has turned The Wood Brothers into Grammy-nominated leaders of American roots music, even as their music reaches far beyond the genre's borders.
"There was something beautiful about never turning on the computer. Until about 25 years ago, sound was only heard and rarely seen. But in modern recording, we've become used to working on music with our eyes, because we can see and manipulate the sound waves on a computer screen. That changes how you experience music and how you make decisions," says Chris Wood. "Making a record without turning on the screen took us back in time to the era where you had to capture a good performance instead of piecing together or 'fixing' a performance. If we weren't happy with a take, we had to perform and record another version. Recording without a computer forced us to trust our instincts, choose what felt best, and move on."
Opening with the stripped-down swagger of "Pilgrim," The Wood Brothers remind listeners to slow down and experience each moment as an interactive observer, rather than a passive tourist. A similar theme anchors "Between the Beats," where Oliver draws upon a meditation technique - maintaining one's focus on the space between heartbeats - to reach a new level of presence. The gentle sway of country soul gem "Rollin' On," featuring horns by Matt Glassmeyer and Roy Agee, expounds on the time-honored tradition of love as the guiding light through darkness, while "Mean Man World" finds Chris singing about his responsibilities as a father whose young daughter is poised to inherit an uncertain future. The album's second single "Line Those Pockets" is a universal call for mercy and understanding over materialism. "Everybody's just trying to be happy, so put your money away; line those pockets with grace," the band sings in three-part harmony during the song's chorus, which emphasizes compassion over cash as the world's true currency. Together, these songs offer a snapshot of a spirited, independent-minded group at the peak of its powers, always pushing forward and seeking to evolve beyond what's come before.
"The chorus of the album's title track says, 'the heart is the hero of every song.' By no means was it intentional, but much of the material we were writing for this record seemed to come full circle to the idea of trusting in your heart in matters that you can't control. Those words seemed to illustrate so much of what we were feeling - that heart and spirit guides us through this world," explains Oliver Wood. "Even by recording completely analog, we had to commit to feeling the performances and have faith in what the three of us were creating together instead of trying to make things perfect by letting technology or overthinking things get in the way."
Heart Is The Hero arrives in the middle of The Wood Brothers' Spring tour that extends through the end of April across the Mountain States, Great Plains, and Texas, including a sold out show this evening at Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek, CO and tomorrow at The Mission Ballroom in Denver just down the road from where brothers Oliver and Chris grew up in Boulder. The band returns to the road in May and June for an additional 20 shows in the Midwest and Northeast with special guests Shovels & Rope supporting.
Watch the lyric video for the title track below and stream the full album here.