In New Zealand over the last five years there’s been a noticeable groundswell of talented alt-country/Americana songwriters and musicians releasing albums to rival the best coming from overseas. Tiny Ruins, The Eastern, Aldous Harding, Bernie Griffen, Tami Neilsen, Marlon Williams and Delaney Davidson have all garnered hard-earned critical acclaim and many have links with Lyttelton Records who are the label behind Will Wood’s new album Broken Man.
Wood is the real deal in the sense that he’s recorded an album that utilises all the central tenets of country music: acoustic guitars, lap steel, violin, banjo, weary vocals and tales of struggle and woe. That in itself is impressive and delivered authentically but Wood also manages to imbue a streak of New Zealand identity in his songs. It’s hard to pinpoint whether it is the unassuming delivery or subtle drinking references and familiar place names but it is there, buried just below the surface. ‘Quiet Night’ is a devastatingly honest take on a relationship through the distorted lens of alcohol as Wood and Reb Fountain trade lines such as “I’m too tired to drink tonight, just go on without me”. It’s an achingly bittersweet moment, lightened considerably by ‘Sweet William’ with Wood taking the female lead amid vaudevillian rhythms and bangs and whistles. Single ‘Sick Of It All’ is catchy as all hell with fast-firing drums and economical playing from all involved, wrapping up the rollicking fun in 2.5 minutes. Elsewhere Wood masters the sound of Nick Cave singing country-soul on ‘One Night Stand’ hot-wired bluegrass on ‘Broken Man’, bare-boned vignettes approaching Townes Van Zandt and observational tales with the dry eloquence of Bill Callahan.
With concise and engaging songs and the ability to present them with heartbreak and/or humour when required Broken Man is an impressive and important album for both Wood and the steadily growing Americana community in New Zealand.
this review was first published on Under The Radar