Brooklyn’s Woods have combatted the “jam band” label for almost 10 years now by releasing albums filled with intricate folk-rock tunes. But tracks like the instrumental September With Pete from 2009′s Songs Of Shame have made this an uphill trudge, courtesy of those who associate seven-plus-minute songs with the jam band tag. So admittedly, Woods are not without blame for this impression. While you may not hear too much Garcia or Allman in the mix, the band’s tendency to venture into festival-ready rhythms and guitar noodling has remained an integral constant on their releases. With Light And With Love is no exception, but it also finds the band exercising their unique roots-pop expertise to an even deeper effect than before.
Part of this album’s success can be credited to the band’s decision to shift away from their traditional bang-em-out writing style. This was their first time in a proper studio, and the extra time and attention given to each song pays off. The drums pack a bigger punch, with deep grooves and powerful fills; the nuances of various guitar parts are all brought out without clashing; and Jeremy Earl’s falsetto sounds just as much at home over the distorted squeals of With Light And With Love as it does over the light Americana strums of the opening track, Shepherd. The bluesy Leaves Like Glass is the strongest example of the fruits of Woods’ updated recording formula. Right from the start, the combination of pocket drumming, subtle organ and acoustic guitar chords, and the playfully restrained lead line creates the type of warmth that your favorite sweater provides as a fall breeze swirls cracked leaves around you.
The album’s title track (the next entry in the band’s over seven-minute club) is actually another great reference point because it demonstrates how rawness doesn’t have to get checked at the door upon entering a proper studio. The tune flows effortlessly between verses and extended instrumental breaks, featuring all types of fretboard/pedal shredding and a syncopated drum beat that eventually launches the band into a pseudo-funk groove that closes out the track. There’s an open-endedness among these many parts, and the methodic fluidity in the transitions further complicate the jam band debate. Regardless of what it’s labeled, it’s sure to be a festival pleaser.
Moving To The Left, New Light and Only The Lonely all have a certain shameless, sun-baked swing to them, which expands upon the inviting attitude that began to pop up on 2012′s Bend Beyond. New Light in particular exhibits optimism through lines like, “What’s burning inside soon burns out of you,” further showcasing the band’s underlying pop sensibility.
The closing track, Feather Man, is the most bare bones cut on the album. Folk plucks and dry strings recall moments from darker, earlier releases, and Earl’s cryptic tale hovers next to this overall inviting piece of work like a lone raincloud threatening a bright new day. It would’ve been nice to see the album close with the type warmth that was so expertly crafted on preceding tracks, but it goes to show that even with eight-albums and 10 years under their belts Woods haven’t strayed too far from their roots. No matter where and how they record, there will always be a line to toe between fairground jams and carefully scrutinized folk-pop, and Woods will do so in a way that is undeniably their own.