In a career chock full of highlights, The Wood Brothers hold a special place in their hearts for their performances at Levon Helm's legendary Midnight Ramble. As repeat special guests at Helm's famed Woodstock barn, the trio—guitarist Oliver Wood, bassist Chris Wood, and drummer Jano Rix—developed a cherished friendship with the late icon that transcended simple musical collaboration and left an indelible mark on their songs and their lives. That shared history made it all the more emotional when The Wood Brothers returned to the barn on August 19, 2016, for their first Ramble since Helm's passing. Captured pristinely on their new album, 'Live At The Barn,' the band's sold-out performance that night spanned their career and showcased the kind of singularly eclectic and electrifying performance style that's earned them devoted legions of fans around the world.
"We're huge fans of Levon's and count him as a big influence," says Oliver, who named his son for Helm. "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. We also got to know his daughter Amy quite well and have had great tours and collaborations with her. She’s a beautiful soul just like her dad, and we have fond memories of playing with both of them in that barn."
Live At The Barn follows 2015's critically acclaimed Paradise, which the band recorded at Dan Auerbach's Easy Eye studio in their adopted hometown of Nashville, TN. Hailed by Rolling Stone for songwriting "that hits both the heart and head" and praised by American Songwriter for its "spry, soulful folk-rock," the album debuted at no. 1 on the Billboard Heatseekers Chart and launched The Wood Brothers into the most successful year of their career, with performances everywhere from Bonnaroo to Red Rocks to Carnegie Hall.
NPR's World Cafe raved that "there is so much warmth, soul and musicianship at a Wood Brothers show, it's no surprise that the band's audience keeps growing," and Live At The Barn is no exception. Over the course of the album's nine tracks, the band careens from soul to folk to funk to blues to rock, mixing acoustic and electric instruments and effortlessly blending eras and regions of American music. While the album documents their remarkably adventurous musicianship and tight interplay, it also manages to capture their extraordinary relationship with their fans, an essential ingredient in the magic of any Wood Brothers concert. On "I Got Loaded," the exuberant audience joins in a rousing call and response, while the bluesy groove of "Tried And Tempted" elicits whoops and hollers from listeners overcome by the energy in the room. The Wood Brothers can effectively transform any venue into a revival tent with their exhilarating performances, but there's something singular about playing in that barn.
"It’s so intimate and casual that it feels less like a concert and more like a living room jam," says Oliver. "The spirit in there is strong, from the history and the intent that Levon had when he built the place to all the great music and musicians that have played there."
With Live At The Barn, The Wood Brothers weave their own little moment into the rich and ever expanding tapestry of Levon’s barn, while at the same time tipping their cap to the influences that came before them. It's only fitting, then, that the record ends with The Band's "Ophelia," a mainstay of The Wood Brothers' live show from a time well before any of them ever imagined performing, let alone recording an album, in such an historic space.
"We're just proud and honored and humbled that this album was made in the barn," says Oliver. "I’d like to think we're part of the same lineage as The Band. We certainly draw from a lot of the same roots, and they've always been an inspiration. Their music reminds us to be ourselves.”