It's apparent that Chris and Oliver Wood have found a few new ways to build upon the unexpected triumph of 2006's, Ways Not to Lose. As a debut, the record seemed like a lark and a moment of downtime for Chris Wood, one-third of the ever-popular trio, Medeski, Martin and Wood. But on Loaded, the Wood Brothers have drawn plenty of help from guests such as Pieta Brown and Amos Lee (who delivers a fine vocal on “Angel,” a love song with a rock steady reggae beat), as well as their old chums Billy Martin and John Medeski. More revealingly, the Wood Brothers emphasize the melodies of the folk half of their folk-blues sound throughout, relying less on the weathered blues-rock Oliver perfected in journeyman Atlanta bands such as Kingsized. There are times where the music gets too pretty, but the lighter touch mostly works.
Chris plays a fine bass, and sings backup on much of Loaded, but Oliver is undeniably the star here. His ruminative but never bitter tone and conversational vocals drive songs such as “Still Close” and “Pray Enough.” On “Postcards from Hell,” he describes a homeless musician so talented that people often ask how he sings so well. “I have a soul that I won’t sell/ And I don’t read postcards from hell,” he responds. While unashamedly spiritual, Oliver isn’t a holy roller. On the title track, as he strums a steel guitar, he talks about being so drunk he’s unable to rap to a girl in a bar. Most of Loaded’s tracks concern love of the spiritual and worldly kind, which Chris emphasizes with deep bass plucks. Like a tall glass of lemon iced tea, Loaded balances its sweetness with depth and soul.