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The Graham Album Review #2119

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Steve Wood: Junk Drawer

(Independent release, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 6/29/2022)

Most people’s image of a singer-songwriter is that of a classic folkie, strumming an acoustic guitar, with songs based on three or four chords, with the main spotlight on the vocals and lyrics. While the styles encompassed by the format have grown to be very wide-ranging, the basic premise remains mostly the same, with the music largely in service of the words.

The results can often be quite interesting when an artist with a solid background in music, someone whose main gig is as an instrumentalist, a composer, arranger or producer, steps up and applies those chops to the singer-songwriter genre. Probably the best known such artist is Randy Newman, widely respected as a film composer, and a perennially sardonic singer-songwriter. In recent years, we have seen impressive albums by Kenny White, who has had a thriving career creating music for commercials, and Gabriel Kahane who brings a classical orchestral background.

This week we have a new album by an artist who has remained very busy behind the scenes over the years. It’s Steve Wood, and his new album is called Junk Drawer.

Southern California-based Steve Wood led a band called Honk for a while, but soon established a career composing music for films, including numerous IMAX documentaries by director Greg MacGillivray, and travelogues with well-known figures like Paul McCartney, Sting, George Harrsion and the Dave Matthews Band. He also worked as the musical director with Kenny Loggins for a decade.

Wood says that he wrote the songs on the new album over the years while working on other musical projects for hire. He would put them aside with the intention of recording them later. They were in a variety of styles, and the nature of the process inspired the title Junk Drawer from it being an accumulation of miscellaneous odds and ends. He writes in his liner notes “The music comes from the junk drawer where I put all the random stuff that I couldn’t throw away and thought I might need some day. Well, that day has arrived.”

It’s a great collection of sophisticated and yet catchy songs that run from love songs to philosophical musings, to encouragements for optimism.

While most of the instruments are played by Wood himself, the album is something of a family project, with his wife Beth Fichet Wood, a singer-songwriter and recording artist in her own right contributing backing vocals, and their son drummer Nate Wood, who has had a career in jazz.

Steve Wood’s figurative junk drawer of songs got rather filled, with this generous album featuring 15 tracks, all of them very nicely done, running from folky to a jazz balled to a little rockabilly.

Leading off is a song called Another Day which is one of those calls for optimism, saying that things will probably get better if you had a bad day. <<>>

Along the same lines lyrically is You Gotta Move advising confronting the current situation and adapting. <<>>

The song called The Perfect Life is described by Wood in two words, “celebrity divorce.” The tune was recorded apparently when Wood was in Greece on other business, and he invited a couple of Greek musicians to join him in the song’s orchestral section. <<>>

Wood said he was producing a recording for a jazz singer, and was inspired by the form of the songs from the Tin Pan Alley days including the introductory verse. The song called With You nicely fits into the genre. <<>>

Another song in keeping with the generally optimistic tone of the album, is Small Things, also with a catchy melody, <<>>

With a rockabilly groove, though centered on a piano rather than guitar., is Party Tonight, about a character who considers himself, in Wood’s words “the gift to man and womankind.” <<>>

What amounts to being the title track of the album is Box of Memories about holding on to mental baggage. <<>>

For me one of the most appealing songs on the album is I Am Just Me. Wood writes about the song “One of the upsides of getting older is getting over being worried if you are cool or not.” He does that with some great lyrical wordcraft. <<>>

Steve Wood spends most of his time creating music for soundtracks, producing and arranging for others, something that takes a lot of skill and versatility. Junk Drawer, his new collection of songs that he accumulated over time, is a great album that brings together his musical versatility and high standards into an appealing recording that is creative, but also generally sunny in its outlook and melodically appealing, and often downright hummable. Lyrically, Wood keeps things direct and unambiguous, but is also brings some great turns of phrase.

Our grade for sound quality is an “A” with good clarity, no unnecessary sonic gimmicks and a nice warm mix.

Steve Wood brings his solid background and skills in the craft of music to his new album, and it provides a clever and sophisticated spin to the singer-songwriter genre.

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This page last updated July 03, 2022