So Much To Defend (RUF)
With multiple wins at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, topped, surely, by his stunning Hollow Point—which details the 2005 shooting of the innocent Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes by British security forces on the London underground—justifiably recognized as The Folk Song of the Year in 2011, Chris Wood has a prestigious pedigree. And that’s a fact. Always an intriguing, thoughtful writer, So Much To Defend unfolds like a series of short stories—stark vignettes of everyday characters going about their unremarkable daily routines: participating in yoga classes, watching crap football matches, swimming at the local baths, raising money for charity, sending drunken text messages… And yet, it’s in the unembellished ordinariness of these various scenes that make these songs so utterly absorbing.
Of course, this is not a disc for the faint of heart; it’s occasionally as grim as it’s captivating. But let’s not discount the grin-raising, autobiographical More Fool Me—a caustic but reassuring inside view of the charms and perils of the life of a folksinger. Wood’s singing is restrained but tasteful with flugelhorn, piano, banjo, and Hammond organ adding minimum embellishment to his impressive acoustic guitar picking. He’s adventurous, too, stretching out from the dark, bluesy The Flail to the jazz inflections of 1887 and Strange Cadence. All the same, it’s Wood’s lyrical flourishes that carry the day, and no example more indicative than the beautiful You May Stand Mute, with its key line: “None dispute the desert of a life lived without love.” Ah yes, exquisite.
Like all great recordings, So Much To Defend reveals more and more of its subtleties and nuances with repeated listening. Another masterful and challenging disc, then, from Chris Wood. What else do you need to know?