CHRIS WOOD – So Much To Defend (RUF RUFCD014)

So Much To DefendChris Wood’s fifth solo album comes across as a model of restraint on first hearing but first hearings can be deceptive. So Much To Defend is an album made up in part of little lives – people who are not even just about managing. There are bigger stories, too, but even these are told in small, personal ways.

The opening title track is a series of vignettes, snapshots of urban life. Some of the characters – Sharon, Maureen and Victoria, for example – are doing all right in their own terms while Bella, Terry and Thomas are struggling with zero-hours contracts, redundancy and unemployment. But Abigail likes her tuna steak “ever so slightly charred” and Svetlana works the night. Everyone has so much to defend even when they have almost nothing. Yes, it is actually a big story.

‘This Love Won’t Let You Fail’ is song for everyone leaving home and the love in question is  that of the mothers who stand and watch them go, worrying all the time. Chris describes ‘Only A Friendly’ as a love song but it’s an oddly tawdry one as Ebbsfleet United lose again. Both are universal stories told in small personal ways.

‘The Flail’ and a setting of Housman’s ‘1887’ are concerned with history. The flail represents the politicians, the police and the media who feed us their version of history; think Hillsborough. Here Chris reminds us to remember what really happened. The latter is a rather acid meditation on monarchy – 1887 was Victoria’s golden jubilee and Housman remembers the men who died to save the queen. I’m still making up my mind about ‘Strange Cadence’ and ‘The Shallow End’. They both seem to be warning us of the siren voices that tell us to be good little consumers and toe the official line but all four of these songs encourage us to question everything we’re told. With ‘More Fool Me’, Chris looks at his own career at the time when there is less money in the music business than when he started and the final ‘You May Stand Mute’ is another of his quasi-hymn tunes with a message that I’m still deciphering.

So Much To Defend is sometimes stark; just voice and one or two instruments, mostly guitars with occasional banjo so Martin Butler’s piano is the only instrument on ‘1887’ although in contrast, Justin Mitchell adds a haunting flugelhorn to ‘Strange Cadence’ and Gary Walsh’s Hammond organ provides another texture to ‘This Love Won’t Let You Fail’. The songs can stand on their own merits and when it comes to live performances Chris and his guitar are all they will need.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

Chris has just sent us this video for ‘This Love Won’t Let You Fail’:

And here’s an old favourite live at the BBC Folk Awards: