Hailing from Lubbock, The Long Road is Wood’s 11th album, and her maturity, experience and assured confidence are in evidence throughout this collection of short stories in song that conjures Americana thoughts of Nanci Griffith, the Indigo Girls and Dolly Parton as well as the sophisticated folk of a Dory Previn.
Working with the core backing of bassist Milui Fultz and drummer Jeremy Burchett, augmented here and there with Anna Tivel on fiddle and backing vocals, guitarist Peter Perdichizzi, producer Tyler Fortier on keys and guitars and, as on the countrified opening break-up ‘Where I Go’ (“when you say it’s your way or the highway, this is where I go my way”), Bryan Daste on pedal steel, the songs reach out and touch familiar experiences and feelings.
Featuring Tivel’s fiddle and Peter Mulvey on backing vocals, ‘One Shot’, a mid-tempo song that finds a sixteen-year-old heading down the Silver Thread to marry his sweetheart, a winding highway that connects former mining towns in southwestern Colorado, looking to chase his hopes and dreams, the lyric actually a reflection on the morning after the 2016 election, war and sacrifice, the title carrying two meanings.
From one highway to another, the soulful title track slows the pace down for a five chords slow dance through painful memories (her marriage had recently fallen apart, something that informs many of the songs) and sense of feeling alone and adrift. The sentiments spill over into the fiddle-adorned ballad ‘Go Now’ where she sings about the geography of loss and how “grief is a river that we can’t cross” while the crystalline sung ‘Call When You Get Home’ with its simple piano, mandolin and fiddle sports a chorus of “Call me when you need me,call me when you don’t call me for no reason just to say hello and call when you get home”.
The more upbeat mood here is also reflected on ‘The Hard Way’, its two characters finding that moment when, as she puts it, they realise that dreams are ideas with wings that you have to decide to fly.
Billie Holiday provides the spark in the bittersweet dreamily reflective Janis Ian-tinged ‘Old Things’ with Fultz on upright bass, the lyrics drawing a relationship split by the gulf between sepia toned familiar comfort and full coloured uncharted horizons, the memories within a room reminding how “It’s just like you to like old things it’s just like me to be new”.
Organ and pedal steel providing the primary colours, ‘Painted Lines’ is probably the most Parton-like number, a testament from a travelling musician for who, the songs are the path (“I have overheard that it is absurd for a woman to take to the road/but I’ve got a dream and it’s a part of me/it’s written in my DNA code”) but also has a “heart that aches for home”.
The lushly arranged piano ballad ‘Heaven Only Know’ with its soaring vocals and string echoes the opening track in its theme of an unclear journey ahead where “we stumble and we stare/tripping over signs everywhere/a bargain that we never got to choose/when we love sometimes we lose”, the only certainty being “the way you make me feel”.
It ends on a perfect pairing to reinforce that notion of change, of letting go and finally moving on to whatever destination presents itself. First up is the jaunty Griffiths strum of ‘Leaving’ (“Thinking I might take a trip to somewhere I have never been before/drive until I feel like stopping sleep, wake up, then drive a little more”), to be followed by a perfectly complementary, rhythmically warm cover of Paul Simon’s ‘Slip Slidin’ Away’.
Wherever the road takes her, she’ll prove a welcome musical companion.
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‘The Hard Way’ – live: