DON GONYEA, host:
Ways Not to Lose. Sounds like a philosophy for living a cautious if perhaps unexciting life. But the phrase is also the name of a new CD by a duo called the Wood Brothers, a rootsy journey through American music that for much of the disc features just two instruments, acoustic bass and guitar. It's hardly the careful approach implied by the title.
(Soundbite of Ways Not to Lose)
Unidentified Singer: (Singing) Let's choose. What are you? When I'm running away from you. Golden road is our way home. Glad to see you but I'll be glad to see you gone.
GONYEA: The Wood brothers are Chris and Oliver and this is their first full length CD project together. They grew up in Colorado, but Chris headed for New York City where for a decade, he's been part of the much praised experimental jazz trio, Medeski, Martin and Wood. Oliver, meanwhile, headed south to Georgia and a very different music scene. Chris and Oliver Wood join us from member station WGBH in Boston. Hi guys.
Mr. OLIVER WOOD (Musician): Hi.
Mr. CHRIS WOOD (Musician): Hello, thanks for having us.
GONYEA: Well, Chris, let's start with you. This may be the most spare sounding disc I've heard in a long time. It's very different from the sounds you've produced with Medeski, Martin and Wood.
Mr. C. WOOD: You know one of the things that attracts to this project is that it's so different than Medeski, Martin and Wood just because, you know, what I'm doing with Oliver, it's just duo. It's all about songs. It's very sort of rootsy Americana and it's something, in a way, that we grew up with with our father, who sang to us a lot. And so it's kind of going back to our roots a little bit.
GONYEA: It really sounds like you recorded it on a back porch, on a dusty Sunday afternoon somewhere.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. C. WOOD: Yeah, well I think that was the idea partly because that's just naturally when we first started playing together within the last three years. That's just the sound that happened all by itself, you know, and the instruments that we're attracted to. And how they combined. So we wanted to make sure it sounded like that on the record too.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Singer: (Singing) What did I say. Just when you think they're gone, give it one more day. And I've seen you with your hair long, face down on the ground. I heard you say well you lost and you couldn't be found. What did I tell you? What did I say? Just when you think they're gone, give it one more day.
GONYEA: Oliver, talk about the first time you guys remember making music together.
Mr. O. WOOD: Well, let's see, you know, when we were kids and I guess I was in my mid teens, and Chris was like four years behind me, we started playing a little together. I actually started out on the bass and tired of it quickly and passed it down to him and I switched to guitar and we would just start jamming together, I guess. You know, basic blues progressions and stuff were the first things that we did. But I'll never forget when we got a four-track recorder and that was a big deal. And it's funny that we just, after we moved out we, you know we hardly played together for the next 15 years. It's pretty weird.
GONYEA: Since you live in different parts of the country, how did the songwriting process on this disc work? Did you get together and do the writing? Did you do it over the phone? Did you share files back and forth over the Internet?
Mr. O. WOOD: A little of all of those things.
Mr. C. WOOD: All of the above. You know how it kind of began with my group Medeski, Martin and Wood. We would tour all over the country and when we were down in the Southeast and around where Oliver lived, there was a couple times he came and sat in with us. And that was the first real connection and where he was up on stage and we were playing together and he fit in so well. And I was just so impressed by his playing and not only how good he was but also how there's this strange familiarity about it.
And I realized, wow, there's definitely this blood family connection going on here, something that I can't really explain or figure out what it is but I could feel it. And then we had this family vacation and our parents had rented this cabin up in Vermont and it's not too far from where I live. So I drove there and was able to bring all this, you know, recording equipment and this old National steel guitar that I bought a long time ago and haven't played very much, but it's this amazing guitar from the '30s.
So when I brought my bass and we just set up and we played together and I recorded a bunch of things and out of that just felt so natural and we immediately wrote our first song, Tried and Tempted.
(Soundbite of Tried and Tempted)
Unidentified Singer: (Singing) I've been thinking turning 'round and heading up the stream to climb a mountain of you. Do you remember when I opened up your box and left the demons out? They frightened even too. I've been tried and tempted. Tried and tempted. Tried and tempted and it's hard to be strong when you're tried and tempted too long.
Mr. C. WOOD: That tune is special in a way because it feels like our sound, I guess.
Mr. O. WOOD: It came without even thinking about it, you know.
Mr. C. WOOD: We've been playing apart for so long but it's kind of now we're actually a young band in a way. We're just starting out in a certain sense even though we're kind of seasoned musicians and been doing this for a long time.
GONYEA: As brothers, do you think you can kind of sense where the other guy is going maybe more than you could when you play with others?
Mr. O. WOOD: Absolutely. I think Chris was referring to that a little bit when we were talking about how much time we spend apart. You know, we both been playing for so long and are accomplished on our own, but together it often takes people a while to really fit and mesh. And I feel like Chris and I did that right away. For instance, on our vacation in Vermont. Or our first meetings with MMW and I would sit in, it was just an immediate connection that I don't know how else to explain it, but that there's sort of this brotherly innate psychic even kind of connection where you can, you can anticipate what the other is going to do and it feels real good to play with somebody like that.
GONYEA: All of the songs on the album are original compositions save one, Angel Band. An old Stanley Brothers tune. Why did you choose to put this particular song on the album?
Mr. C. WOOD: Well, did the Stanley Brothers write, I think it's a traditional...
Mr. O. WOOD: It's an old traditional as far as I know.
GONYEA: I remember it from their old recordings, but...
Mr. O. WOOD: Their recording is the most well known, probably, and its wonderful.
Mr. C. WOOD: Oliver actually learned it from a Joan Baez compilation that we had. She put out a box set about 10 years ago that included some recordings with our father, Bill Wood.
(Soundbite of Joan Baez and Bill Wood)
Ms. JOAN BAEZ and Mr. BILL WOOD (Musicians): (Singing) My lady's sun is sinking fast. My race is nearly run.
Mr. C. WOOD: They actually played together in the kind of folk scene in the late Fifties around the Cambridge, Harvard area. And my father had a radio show there and Joan would come. They'd sing together. I think they performed a little bit together. So we got this present basically from him. He was real proud. You know, he ended up on this box set of Joan Baez and that song was on there. And I think Oliver learned it. And I remember he sent me his interpretation of it and it gave it a real sparse gospel feel that I just love.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Singer: (Singing) I'm almost gain my heavenly home. My fear is all the same. Behold they come the Holy One. I hear the sound of rain.
GONYEA: And are you aware as you play a song that's so old, such a traditional song, that you're right down there on the foundation of American music in a lot of ways?
Mr. C. WOOD: Yeah, you know, and it's definitely, I don't want to try to think about it too much, especially when I'm playing it.
GONYEA: Never think.
Mr. C. WOOD: Never think. Ultimately I just, you know, you just got to try to feel it, 'cause it really, it's coming from a tradition but it's also got to be coming from inside yourself too to make it valid, you know, for now. So John Medeski actually from Medeski, Martin and Wood produced this record. He's like another brother to me and just had great subtle hints and advice about that very thing, you know, like remember where this is coming from and, you know, try to approach it a little bit like this, like that. And so you take his advice but then you just, when it comes down to it, you just got to feel it.
(Soundbite of music)
GONYEA: Chris and Oliver Wood joined us from member station WGBH in Boston. Their CD Ways Not To Lose was released by Blue Note Records. Thanks, guys.
Mr. C. WOOD: Thank you very much.
Mr. O. WOOD: Thank you.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Singer: (Singing) Oh come the end of end. Coming around again. And bear a way I'm going snow whiting. The mighty Lord of home. And bear me a way on your snow lightning oh mighty one.
GONYEA: You can hear the song Chocolate On My Tongue and other cuts from the CD at our website, NPR.org. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Liane Hansen will return next week. I'm Don Gonyea.