If I’m being completely honest, I came really late to loving country and bluegrass.
I liked guitar-heavy singer-songwriter types, and loved me some folk, but it took a while of slow genre-absorption before I realised that – indeed – I kinda liked country. Of course, not all country, but that whole batch of music with a really strong tradition and heritage.
And like it or love it, the country-bluegrass spectrum is having a pretty ripper time of it right now – perhaps it’s the alignment of peak hipster beard, lo-fi recording and obscure instruments. There are bands left, right and centre cashing in on the more folky-country vibe that’s enjoying its time in the sun, some of whom have little to no regard or connection to the DNA of country and bluegrass and the decades of musicians before them.
Which is a long-winded intro of a way to say that New Zealand’s Will Wood is NOT one of those idiots, and the man can play and write a helluva song.
In some new continuing quirk of drummers-turned-soloists/frontmen that do really well out from behind the kit (Gotye and Jonathan Boulet being the prime examples), Will Wood’s album Broken Man, shows the artist’s writing and performing chops.
After years on drums in bands, Wood has stepped out alone, reconnected with his guitar and discovered songwriting skills. And as someone new to writing his own material, Wood has an uncanny aptitude for it. Lyrics feel auto-biographical, good patches and rough captured equally well through his clear, unpolished vocals. Where much newer music in this genre feels contrived in its attempt to retread well-worn lyric tropes Wood’s simplicity and honesty rumbles out of each track (complemented in parts with Reb Fountain’s clear, clean vocals).
And the tracklist gives him ample opportunity to test his reach, wandering from folksy, to bluegrass, to folksy, to rock and stopping for a pint between each as well. There’s hustle and drive in tracks like the stripped back guitar and harmonica of opening track Heartstrings and New Bond Street (with playful lyrics, without being naff), to the classic bluegrassy jam session vibe of Take Me Away.
Slower, more introspective and melancholic tracks, like One Night Stand and Quiet Night, have a reflective and sweet honesty to them, with lyrics that never veer into the saccharine or cliché. Of course, there’s the surprising wackiness of Wood’s falsetto on Sweet William. Just listen to it. It’ll make sense then.
Across the whole album, Wood vocals and guitar work really click together well – hard to imagine that this hasn’t been his stock and trade throughout his career. Production across the album is spot-on; nothing over engineered or too polished. Wood is lucky to have assembled some ace musos to support for the album, giving full body to the tracks that need it without overwhelming the songs.
Broken Man is a tidy, tight little collection of tracks, that showcase Wood well. If this is only the start of this stretch of his musical career, it’s a great sign of things to come. And name your price on Bandcamp? A steal at twice the price.
Originally published in Rocket.