There are times in a band’s music history where stylistic change in mandated — coerced, even — to stress artistic growth and maturity. Conversely, occasions also present themselves for an ensemble to stay put and embrace the sound it knows best for commercial considerations. After all, nothing sells like the familiar.
But in the case of “One Drop of Truth,” both practices apply. The 10th album (including live records and a covers EP) by The Wood Brothers, it assimilates everything the trio does best. The spacious-sounding, roots-driven tunes are sung with modest but revivalistic vigor by guitarist Oliver Wood, propelled into a richly organic groove orbit by sibling bassist Chris Wood and richly augmented by percussive and keyboard color from Jano Rix (who made the duo a trio in 2012).
Does the new record strive for new stylistic terrain? Not really. Does it sound mired in a static rewind of past recordings? Not in the least. In short, “One Drop of Truth” is the sound of a band taking stock of itself, appraising strengths before reinforcing them.
Take the album’s title tune. It opens with a partly cloudy variation of back porch harmonizing that is rootsy in design but a touch ominous in delivery. Oliver Wood leads not only the casually sanctified tone of the singing, but applies guitar work that begins with a brittle acoustic foundation before opening to let in shimmers of an electric blues grind to accent the music’s rustic flavor.
The same goes for “Laughin’ or Crying,” where a reserved and deliciously stark guitar strut is cracked open with percussive rolls and modest keyboard orchestration by Rix that triggers a slowpoke rhythm with a carnival air. That leads into a chorus where the opposing expressions stressed in the title seem to be working off each other simultaneously.
The avenues traveled on these songs, aren’t new. They simply refine the cross generational roots styles that have long made The Wood Brothers so appealing. But the clarity of the trio’s collective voice, as well as the drive to underscore its independence, appears quite intentional. “One Drop of Truth” relies neither on an all-star guest list (as did 2015’s “Paradise”) or a celebrated producer (as did 2013’s “The Muse”). The album’s 10 tunes were penned, produced and performed by the trio alone.
Perhaps that explains how concisely the current state of The Wood Brothers is summarized during “This Is It,” a meditation as cautionary and it is content (“This is me and only me and all the dreams that set me free”). Given the organic openness of the music and the message, the tune tells us The Wood Brothers sound just fine when sounding like themselves.