Will Wood – Magpie Brain & Other Stories (Album Review)

The key word in the title of this, Will Wood’s second album, is “stories”. The Auckland-based musician is a storyteller in the best tradition of folk music, regaling us with tales of world travel, love at first glance, family and, of course, trains.

Like his 2014 debut disc, Broken Man, Magpie Brain & Other Stories was recorded at Ben Edwards’ studio in Lyttleton with assistance from Dave Khan (mandolin, violin, guitar), Tom Landon-Lane (lap steel, slide guitar, bass), Jono Hopley (upright bass) and Reb Fountain (vocals).

While all the sidemen make significant contributions, it’s Reb Fountain who really stands out. Her duet Will on the opening song, It Rains, is probably my favourite track of the year, so far. The song itself is one of Wood’s finest…a beautifully melancholic with lyrics to match. Will starts the song with an assured, but world-weary vocal, and Reb turns in a wistful response. Meanwhile Dave Khan’s fiddle and Landon-Lane’s lap steel further accentuate the beauty of the song. Frankly, I can’t stop listening to this one.

Fortunately the rest of the album holds up almost as well.

Magpie Brain finds Will falling for a Brazilian girl at just a glance. Again Reb is on board to add her special something.

Cage shows off Wood’s impressive vocal range…hitting Orbison-esque high notes and then dipping down deep and low like Johnny Cash.

Drown Drown Drown is a dark, atmospheric chronicle of “the end of a hectic love affair” and another fine song.

And then there is New York, Wood’s talking blues detailing his stay in The Big Apple resulting in a night sleeping rough on a park bench along the Hudson. It’s a perfect piece of storytelling set to music.

Trains is a bouncy, traditional-sounding tune driven by Khan’s fiddle while Sailor’s Lament features some fine call and response singing with Reb and Hawaiian-style steel guitar.

John Henry, is a run-through of the traditional tune, and while it’s OK, I’d much rather hear another Wood original.

Fortunately two more follow…Haggerston is a quiet meditation on heartbreak and the closer, For The Old Man, is a very personal summation of the life of Will’s dad.

A finer collection of songs you’d be hard-pressed to find…there’s plenty of fun and heartbreak in equal measure…what more could you ask for?

Marty Duda

Click here to listen to It Rains from Magpie Brain & Other Stories: