Wood Brothers back in Aspen for another sold out Belly Up show
The Wood Brothers are living the dream.
The rootsy folk-blues trio had long fantasized about what they might do if they could write and record music on their own terms, Oliver Wood said in a phone interview. They found out on their 2018 album “One Drop of Truth.”
The Woods made it without a record label, produced it themselves and recorded it over the course of a year in independent Nashville studios. They funded it on their own with touring income. The result is what the band has described as its “free-est” songs and its “most fun” recording experience.
“We were not beholden to anyone financially or creatively and we just did it ourselves,” Oliver Wood said. “That was very liberating. It just felt like, ‘This is us.’ We’re having a great time doing it, so there’s no pressure. It’s just fun and this is how we sound when we do that.”
The trio will play a sold-out show at Belly Up Aspen on Wednesday night, in what’s become an annual tradition of playing to a full house at Belly Up every December.
The freedom of the recording process on their sixth album translates into a diverse group of songs that retain the Woods’ well-established rustic folk sound, but with a jolt of sonic and stylistic playfulness. There’s the upbeat and peppy “Happiness Jones” laced with a subversive social commentary. There’s a sweet and stripped-down folk number “Strange as it Seems,” which stands alongside classic bare-bones Woods Brothers songs like “Postcards from Hell” and “Luckiest Man.” And there are boot-stomping Southern rock sing-alongs like “This Is It,” which have been high points of the Woods’ live show (captured on the recently released “Live at the Fillmore” concert album).
Rather than writing songs for an extended period and then squeezing the recording process into a week or two in a studio, the trio went into the studio over the course of a year and recorded whenever a song was ready.
“We’ve always fantasized about making albums a song at a time,” Wood said. “Write a song you’re excited about, record it, then move on to the next song.”
Though it was made in creative spurts, some themes emerge here that reflect our stormy times. There is, for example, quite a lot of apocalyptic weather in these new songs — a broken levee, stormy seas, hurricanes.
“Often that’s subconscious,” Wood said. “It’s the coolest thing about artists: sometimes you create something and you don’t know where you got it from until you look back in retrospect and you’re like, ‘Oh, man, that was during the election or that’s when somebody dumped me or somebody died.”
Formed 13 years ago after the brothers Chris and Oliver each had separate, successful bands — bass player Chris with Medeski, Martin & Wood; guitarist Oliver as frontman for King Johnson — the Wood Brothers are round out by multi-instrumentalist Jano Rix. They’ve become a staple at big summer festivals, with a devoted nationwide following and a reputation as a must-see live act.
The Woods have made regular appearances at Belly Up in recent years, playing the club at least annually. But their Aspen connection goes back long before they were selling out the club every winter. Oliver and Chris spent boyhood summers in Aspen, when their father — a microbiologist — worked on textbooks with a locally based editor. Those days included classical music concerts at the Benedict tent and selling The Aspen Times on the streets. The family later moved to Boulder, where the Woods spent their high school years.
“I have super fond memories of those places,” Wood said. “I love coming back there.”
The Woods plan to keep making records the way they made “One Drop of Truth” and have now obtained their own studio space to do it. There, he said, they plan to keep experimenting and relishing their creative freedom.
“We’re going to do things that we haven’t done before and avoid things we have done in the past — try something new,” Wood said. “We aren’t sure what it is yet, but we know what it isn’t.”