Most bands don't start out playing around campfires or learning songs from their dad in the family living room. But Chris and Oliver Wood's collaboration has strong roots, even if they had to follow separate paths before getting back in touch with them.
The Wood Brothers were still growing up in Boulder when they first began their musical relationship. That was back before Chris moved on to find international acclaim as bass player in the New York City-based Medeski Martin & Wood. Oliver, meanwhile, had relocated to Atlanta where, in addition to playing second guitar with bluesman Tinsley Ellis, he was singer and guitarist in the southern rock outfit, King Johnson.
Yet through it all, those family ties never fully unravelled. "Our father playing guitar and singing was a real early influence for us," explains elder brother Oliver. "That was our main exposure to live music when we were kids."
"It was about five or six years ago we reconnected musically," says Oliver of the time spent in different regions developing distinctly different styles of music. "We started out by just jamming. We listened to the recordings and were like, 'We have to make these songs.'"
The brothers' current material blends their two styles — Oliver brings Southern soul and blues influences to the table, while Chris's dexterous and imaginative bass lines reflect his immersion in the eclectic jazz world. But the result still feels like it's coming from the front porch next door.
The Woods released their debut, Ways Not to Lose, on Blue Note in 2006. They also released a live EP and played a series of opening slots for Medeski Martin & Wood during a break in King Johnson's touring.
"Chris and I don't live near each other, so we have very separate lives when we're not on tour," notes Oliver. "When we're on tour, it's our time to hang out."
The brothers followed up their debut with 2008's Loaded, which features musical friends Billy Martin, Amos Lee, Frazey Ford and Kenny Wollesen. They also released another EP, Up Above My Head, which includes languid covers of the Beatles' "Fixing a Hole" and the Allman Brothers' "Midnight Rider."
Most recently, the duo laid down tracks for 2011's Smoke Ring Halo, which will be released on Zac Brown's newly formed label, Southern Ground Records. The album finds the guitarist and bassist backed by drummer Tyler Greenwell, who is well known for his percussion work with the Derek Trucks Band as well as Southern surrealist Colonel Bruce Hampton.
"Tyler plays some really trashy drums — smashing on junk," says Oliver. "He's another Atlanta guy. He's incredible, and he's on every track, I believe. John Medeski plays some keys on a couple songs."
"Mary Anna," a new cut on the duo's MySpace page, finds them belting out their brotherly harmonies over the waltzy strumming and thumping of acoustic instruments, recalling the front-porch feel of their first album.
"We are highly influenced by music that doesn't have a lot of fancy effects or production, stuff that doesn't sound expensive," says Oliver. "We like that raw sound, and we like it to be subtle, and intimate, and not too slick."