As I was saying yesterday, so much music, so little time. So many albums I haven’t really explored. Having limited shelf space is a good discipline because it forces me to constantly declutter. Three or four years ago, when the CDs were over running the small bedroom that I grandly call a “study”, I bought some large plastic boxes and filled them with all the CDs that I couldn’t remember playing for several years. The box was placed underneath a bed until last year, when I contacted a record shop in Reading which advertises that they buy unwanted CDs and vinyl. I sold the 90 duplicate vinyl albums that both Roo and I had bought before we met in 1991 and about 150 CDs. This very pleasant guy came to the house and offered us £1 for every vinyl and 30p for every CD. Obviously, if I had had the inclination, I could have got much more by selling them all individually but, to be honest, I couldn’t be bothered and I was pleased to create the extra space in the house (which I’ve now filled by buying more CDs).
Earlier this week, I woke up thinking that I would write about Chris Wood. The problem with Chris Wood is that his name begins with a W and so I had to get down on all fours and peer at the bottom shelf to find his CDs. I grabbed a handful, found “Handmade Life”, listened to it, wrote about it and as I was about to put them back I noticed that I had also, by mistake, pulled out an album by The Wooden Sky. I stared at it in astonishment because I would swear that I had never seen this CD before in my life. I had no recollection of the cover and had no idea why I had bought it, when it was released and certainly I had no idea what it sounded like.
Too much music. Not enough time. I can only guess that it got a good review in UNCUT or MOJO in 2009 and I bought it. I’m guessing that I played it a few times, didn’t really pay it any attention, bought some other CDs and forgot about it. If it hadn’t been on the bottom shelf, I probably would have put it in the discard box a few years ago and sold it for 30p in which case I would have missed out on a really interesting album. I played it this morning and it was like I’d never heard it before – but I instantly loved it.
I don’t know too much about The Wooden Sky but here is what I’ve managed to find out. There are five members in the group and they come from Toronto. They are classified as an indie-folk band on Wikipedia and this begs the question as to whether a group that has a drummer (rather than a percussionist) can play “folk” music. It doesn’t really matter, I know. Wikipedia lists The National as an “associated act” which I think is a way of informing us who they sound like. The album was produced by Howard Bilerman who has produced albums by Arcade Fire (for whom he used to be a drummer), Godspeed You! Black Emperor (GYBE) and A Silver Mt. Zion (ASMZ). It was produced at a studio called Hotel2Tango which Howard Bilerman runs with Efrim Menuck and Thierry Amar (who are both members of GYBE and ASMZ). The instruments on this album are guitar, piano, lap steel guitar, mandolin, keyboards, banjo, violin, cello, drums and percussion. This is their second of five albums, the last being released in 2017. Four of the five members of the band in 2009 are still together – the lead singer, guitarist and songwriter is called Gavin Gardiner.
The opening track is called “Oh My God (It Still Means A lot To Me)”. Although it starts with just a guitar and a vocal, it soon kicks into a jaunty singalong folk song despairing about the mistakes he has made in life and wondering whether he can ever pick up the pieces of a broken relationship. “I’ve been thinking about selling off every shirt I own just to stand out here naked in the cold“. It looks like the video was made in lockdown but, in fact, was made at the time of the album’s release.
“Angels”, the third track is definitely not folk music. It’s a short rock song, with intense drumming, manic vocals that remind me of Conor Oberst at his most desperate and lyrics that start “I’m too young to die and if I’d know these days were numbered then I might not have tried”. This live performance is intensely exciting.
“Call If You Need Me” is more downbeat and seems to be another song about the end of a relationship. “Give me two hands to hold up over my head to try to keep this storm at bay”
The video contains a bizarre setting for a live performance of this song which starts at around two minutes.
“The Late King Henry” is another happy, jolly singalong tune with lyrics which suggest the possibility of suicide. “Well, the river rose up and came to me last night and took the hat right off my head”
I don’t think I’ve ever come across a more interesting set of videos on YouTube, especially for a band I’ve never heard of. “How could I buy forgiveness when I ain’t got the time?“
“River Song One” ends the album on a cheery note. “I watched the water roll in off the river and said “My dear we’re in for it now”. You said “Lay your head down next to mine on the ground and if the lord doesn’t save us we’ll drown”. So we both lay there shaking, our hands in the river, saying “I’m sure we were born just to die”.
I must scour the shelves for more unplayed CDs. If I don’t come home you’ll know I’ve gone down the rabbit hole of more and more music, never to return.