Over the years, The Wood Brothers repeatedly visited Levon Helm at his barn in Woodstock, New York for the popular Midnight Ramble. These visits eventually led to a cherished friendship between the trio and Helm. The group made a trek back to the barn on August 19, 2016, for their first Ramble since the passing of Helm, where they recorded their latest album, Live At The Barn. Helms’ influence reached well beyond the notes of a song. Guitarist Oliver Wood named his son after the late Levon, adding that “since we actually got to know him, his influence was more than musical—it was personal. He was one of those unique and powerful personalities, and I’ll always remember how gracious he was.”
Live At The Barn revisits 9 songs that run the gamut of The Wood Brothers’ musical catalog. The trio also consists of bassist Chris Wood, and drummer Jano Rix. The opening track, “Mary Anna,” gracefully eases listeners into the album. The deep, rich tones fill the barn with warmth and purity, as whoops and hollers are chimed in from the audience. Right away the song brings you into the barn among the crowd sitting alongside the band. With eyes closed, the faintly familiar smell of barn wood and slight chimney smoke in the air also teases at the senses.
A spirited “I Got Loaded” captures the electrified audience as lyrics are playfully sung back and forth with enthusiasm. Mystifying tones gently tiptoe into “Tried & Tempted” before the melody curves into a head swaying blues jam. The vibe in the room can only be envisioned with a dancing crowd to this melody.
A crisp guitar cools off the barn with a gentle “Trouble In Mind.” Resonating with heavy, psychedelic undertones, this delicate melody keeps the ears filled with colorful imagery. Picking up the pace, “Who The Devil” is tightly stacked with thick bass, vigorous drums, and guitar that rocks the hell out of this soaker of a tune.
In your face bass bombs stealthily glide into “Wastin’ My Mind,” before picking up hitchhiking guitar and drums. The song builds with increasing intensity and mischievous rhythm, creating a musical ambiance filled with empty whiskey bottles and lingering cigar smoke. A massive fan favorite, “Postcards From Hell,” is fittingly dedicated to the memory of Levon Helm. This track takes its time building. Midway through it explodes with massive energy, pumping the live audience, as well as the listener, with shake your bones vibes. It’s impossible not to react to the intensity of this song, as swinging arms, bobbing heads, and dancing legs instinctively react to the beat. Expect to hit the repeat button over and over.
“Honey Jar” twists around funky rhythms to bluesy tones and back again. Crunchy guitar and full bodied bass envelop the melody, as drums keep the pace, creating a lush and smooth ride for the eardrums. Wrapping up the album, “Ophelia” takes the live experience at the barn to a close. This dynamic track strides along, with the notes practically high-fiving each audience member before closing out the music for the evening.
If you’ve never seen The Wood Brothers perform, this is the perfect album to capture their energy in a live setting. It’s highly suggested to throw on the headphones, crank the volume, and soak in the songs with eyes closed. Within the first few minutes, don’t be surprised to be tapping and shaking along to the beats. This is one album that will fit perfectly in any musical collection.
The Wood Brothers will be kicking off a U.S. tour in Philadelphia shortly following the release of their new album. Full tour dates and information can be found on their official website.
Key Tracks: I Got Loaded, Who The Devil, Postcards From Hell