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Music Review: Tim Woods – The Blues Sessions

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Tim Woods has been picking and playing the blues throughout his more than 25-year career but rather than rush to release an immature approximation of the music he loves, he opted to wait ‘til the time was right. The Blues Sessions, his debut disc, is the result of a six-month odyssey, with Woods travelling to Clarksdale, Atlanta, and Chicago, seeking the aid of some of his heroes in his quest for authenticity.

The results are impressive indeed. Woods has enlisted some genuine heavyweights, including David ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards, one of the last surviving originators of the Delta blues. Also on hand are the likes of guitarists John Primer and Big Jack Johnson, bassist Bob Stroger, drummer Kenny ‘Beedy Eyes’ Smith, and Michael Frank, the man behind Earwig Music, on harmonica. And that’s just the beginning – in total there are some sixteen participants along for Wood’s musical ride.

So there’s a great deal of living history involved in The Blues Sessions. Fortunately, Woods has his own ideas, and what could have been yet another dry and dusty tribute is instead a lively and vital collection that respects the music’s origins and originators while adding distinct touches that help carry tradition forward.

True, Woods is only responsible for one composition here – “World Comes Tumblin’ Down,” the slithery boogie that closes the disc. But while some covers stick closely to tradition – notably the three Honeyboy Edwards songs, acoustic affairs with Edwards himself handling the vocals – elsewhere there are elements of Woods’ jam-band background to add a somewhat more modern edge. Take Willie Dixon’s “It Don’t Make Sense You Can’t Make Peace” – with its spacey violin (courtesy of Joe Craven) and crunching beat that veers off into psychedelic territory, it’s an arrangement that might well have baffled the composer. And yet it works, as does Wood’s somewhat jazzy rendition of Dixon’s “Spoonful,” here an acoustic romp featuring Woods’ and Eric Noden’s guitars, with Smith adding understated percussion.

Dixon the songwriter is well represented here, with Woods tackling “Do The Do” and “Built For Comfort” as well. Other highlights include a romp through Big Jack Johnson’s ”Clarksdale Boogie,” with Johnson himself trading licks with Woods, and Edwards’ “Wind Howlin’ Blues,” a tune last recorded in 1942.

Woods is a fine guitarist, and the friends on board all live and breathe this music, so instrumental performances throughout are uniformly first-rate. And Woods is an eminently adequate vocalist, though there are occasional moments when he comes across as a bit more earnest than accomplished. (But then who could hold a candle to the quiet dignity Edwards brings to his two righteously ragged vocal performances?).  And Woods’ respect for the music and his energetic approach more than make up for any minor quibbles.

A fine and spirited outing that balances sincerity with musical exuberance, this one’s a winner. Here’s hoping we’ll be hearing much more from Tim Woods!

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