Available on Woodsist (Sept. 18, 2012)
Jeremy Earl likes to stay busy. The falsetto-prone singer and founder of the hazy folk band Woods has spearheaded a release by the group every year since 2006. Not creatively satisfied with just fronting the band, Earl also runs the successful record label Woodsist and hosts the annual Woodsist Festival at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur. Some might take a look at these pursuits and see a man spreading himself too thin, while others might see an artist thriving in a culture bursting with free-flowing creativity. Despite this heavy output, Earl and the other three members of Woods have managed to create a new album, Bend Beyond, that is consistently engaging and artistically progressive.
All of the staple ingredients of a Woods album, like simple acoustic rhythms, reeling electric guitars, and Earl’s doubled lead vocals, find prominent positions on Bend Beyond. The instantly memorable “Cali In A Cup” employs each of these to great effect while adding a thick backbeat, wandering harmonica riffs, and a vocal hook as catchy as the best of them. On “It Ain’t Easy,” Earl picks lightly on an acoustic guitar to the stark accompaniment of a slide guitar and his voice. Reflective and earnest in his trademark casual manner, the lyrics rival some of Earl’s best – “It gets hard without much to say / A pile of stones in lieu of your grave / And ain’t it hard to say it ain’t easy / Lookin’ for different ways to makes things stay the same.”
While Bend Beyond still gives off a sense of the DIY ethos that has guided Woods in the past, the recordings here seem fuller and more realized than previous efforts. Luckily, the album contains several of those freewheeling and squealing beasts of guitar solos that have long come to help define the band’s sound, albeit they are now walked on a shorter leash. Bend Beyond improves upon the finest elements of Woods’ prior releases without stepping into the unforgiving trappings of a sterile and uninspired performance.
Ben Sauder is an Online Editorial Assistant at Ogden Publications, the parent company of Utne Reader. Find him on Google+.