British guitarist Jon Wood’s first solo CD is a unique venture because of the combination of different types of musics he blends into his vision. Taking a little bit of what can only be called American Appalachian mountain music, a little bit of jazz along with a little bit of blues, Wood’s creates what can best be described as slow British alternative pop meets Bill Frisell - but with a decidedly sad and tragic edge.
The title for the CD, ONE to five, is in reference to Wood’s use of between one and five musicians per track. Each song’s soundscape, however, never remains the same, as he calls upon a pool of 14 guest artists to accompany him, or not, on each cut. With the diverse musicians used, and the wide variety of talents they possess, Wood is able to swirl a varied palette of timbres into some fascinating colors. While the album is unmistakably Wood’s effort, at times it seems like a sampler disc. For example, It Means Everything is a slow bluesish number propelled by the voice of remorse from vocalist Lenna Santamaria. Her dusky and heartrending singing is ably accompanied by Josie Owens’ alto saxophone and Simon Cambers’ drumming, all culminating in a feeling of despair and temporary resignation. Hanna Burchell’s vocals on The Beat of my Heart create a broad contrast. Burchell has more of a Nanci Griffith meets Judy Collins style but keeps it light even though she sings of unrequited love. 125 MPH is a jazzy instrumental with Owens’ soprano sax promptly displayed out front in this sax/guitar/percussion trio.
Wood’s guitar takes center stage on numbers such as Tightrope and Sorry I Missed Your Birthday. One, at moments, hears a little of Jethro Tull’s guitarist Martin Barre in Wood’s playing, but mostly the influence is American folk. His writing has an overall edge of sadness and longing from afar with melodies that are, in some part, certainly influenced by jazz. As far as playing and technique are concerned there is too much distracting right hand finger noise in his sound as he slides from hand position to hand position when playing loud - he plays the guitar left-handed and has the strings restrung to accommodate - but this is a minor problem. Wood’s exceptionally folksy sound is pleasant to listen to and his incorporation of violinists Eamon McLoughlin and Linda Game, who never play on the same track but almost sound interchangeable, bring a distinctly American mountain flair to the music. The violinists are able to turn a song like In Your Shadow into a plaintive Bluegrass anthem. But, as previously stated, there are too many different influences at play for the music to ever settle into one regularly defined genre.
It’s a good first effort. Not perfect and little too scattered, but Wood’s music definitely deserves wider recognition. If you are looking for music that speaks to a unique vision, is full of sad unreciprocated love songs and moody instrumental tracks you’ll find much to like in this young British lad.