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Mastering simplicity

The Wood Brothers bring stripped-down folk and blues to Tulsa

Oliver and Chris Wood


Brothers Oliver and Chris Wood have been making music since childhood. You might recognize them separately—Chris is the “Wood” in the acclaimed jazz trio Medeski Martin and Wood, and Oliver made a name for himself playing guitar for Tinsley Ellis before starting the blues outfit King Johnson. Yet despite a shared musicality, Chris and Oliver didn’t begin collaborating until the mid-2000s, when Oliver’s band played alongside Chris at a show in North Carolina. After a fantastic performance, it became clear to both brothers that their collaboration should continue. A decade later, after several albums and iterations of Americana-blues, and with the addition of third band member Jano Rix, the Wood Brothers continue to hone their unique blend of simple songwriting and instrumental mastey. They’ll put it on display at the Vanguard on Feb. 24.

It’s a real treat when a band can consistently evolve without straying too far from its roots. Fans familiar with The Wood Brothers’ catalog will notice a slight difference in style and approach on their most recent album, “The Muse.” It’s possibly their most stripped-down work to date—produced without tracking, featuring songs recorded with the three bandmates huddled around a shared microphone. Even so, the same vocal quality (tender, soulful, simple) and lyrical storytelling shines through. It’s elements like these that make The Wood Brothers’ songs feel so familiar. Oliver’s bluesy guitar strumming, Chris’ toe-tapping bass lines, and reticent, whiskey-soaked lyrics give The Wood Brothers’ Americana sound a funky, backwoods quality that isn’t easily forgettable. Their songs sound plucked right out of a greatest hits album and often leave you wondering where you’ve heard them before. Maybe you have, or maybe it’s just a testament to their roots. 

In between touring, The Wood Brothers have been working on a new album. It’s the first time they’ve been able to write material for the band together in the same city. 

“We’ve really gotten into the collaborative thing and learned sort of how to let each other deconstruct ideas that we have,” Oliver says. “There may be songs where one of us dominates the lyrics or music, but we always finish these things together.” 

Creative deconstruction aside, the benefit of proximity in the songwriting process can’t be overlooked. 

“It’s certainly a lot easier for Chris and I to write together,” Oliver said. “We lived apart for our entire adult life. It always made it challenging to write. So now we’ve got all our families here and just sort of converged in this hotbed of music.” 

That “hotbed of music” is Nashville. Oliver moved there in 2012, and Chris soon followed. Living in a city steeped in musical tradition has its perks, Oliver said. The city breeds creativity, and with the likes of Jack White, Buddy Miller and Emmylou Harris around, it’s a musician’s paradise. 

“The environment of Nashville, we really love it,” he said. “We don’t get super involved in the local scene, but we do love just being surrounded by all these amazing, creative people. I get a thrill out of knowing there are people in my neighborhood in their studios writing music.”

With the Wood brothers deep in their own writing and recording phase, Tulsans might get a taste of new music. Oliver doesn’t give up too much about what they’re working on but promises it’ll be a slight departure from the norm. 

“We are consciously trying to do some different things than we’ve done before,” he said. “Like, Chris might play electric bass on a few songs. And he’s a fantastic electric bass player.

“Sonically, we’re trying to make something quite different than what we’ve already made—maybe a little more of a bigger sound. A little louder.” 

The Wood Brothers with Kristina Train at the Vanguard // 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 24 // 222 N. Main Street // View photos from the show here.

Want more coverage like this? Check out Megan's story on Railroad Earth.