Hailing from the other side of the “coniferous curtain,” Sault Ste. Marie born blues wanderer Al Wood has put his time into the Ottawa music scene. In 2010, Al Wood and the Woodsmen took the Ottawa Blues Society’s “Road to Memphis” challenge, and advanced to the semi-finals at International Blues Challenge in Memphis. They’ve also won awards from the Music and Film in Motion (Northern Ontario) Awards, their music has been featured on PBS TV, and they have been recognized by the Toronto Blues Society.
Accomplished bluesman Wood, along with his Woodsmen, return with their latest album “Hooka Train,” boasting classic blues compositions and traditional roots tunes, with some rockabilly sensibility. Wood himself is a virtuoso harmonica player, talented guitarist, and versatile vocalist. It’s hard to imagine that some of these songs aren’t renditions of established tunes, but are in fact, originals. Wood’s ability to capture the spirit and sound of the blues is remarkable. Recorded live off the floor in one day at Raven Street Studios in Ottawa with engineer Marty Sobb, the album features musicians Lindsay Pugh (guitar), Frank Deresti (bass), and Simon Meilleur (drums). You can tell from listening that these artists have been playing together for the better part of a decade.
The band is renowned for their high energy live performances, replete with electrifying harmonica and guitar solos, and a driving, groove carving rhythm section. This vitality is captured in “Hooka Train,” in both the musicianship and the skilled arrangements. The album is a tribute to letting go. It’s about taking the hardships that life gives you, finding ways to get past them, and resisting the urge to dwell on inconsequential or impassable. “Mole Hill Mountain Blues” is a deep pocket blues rock anthem about not making a big deal out of the small things. Complete with crunchy guitar and wailing harmonica riffs, the song reminds us that “What seems like blood and fire is just a grain of salt.”
Other highlights include the title track, “Hooka Train,” a fast little ditty with a driving beat, and that shows off some of Wood’s harmonica chops. Drum and guitar accents make the listener feel like they’re on a train with creative use of tone painting. “Worryin’ Days Are Done” is a pared down traditional blues tunes that showcases Wood’s rich voice, ever present with a smooth grind at times, and the band’s knack for arrangement. A perfect way to play out an album with the theme of moving onward, upward, and forward.
“Hooka Train” is on track to be one of Ottawa’s best roots and blues releases for 2017; so catch the release party at Irene’s this Saturday, May 6 at 8:30 pm. Don’t miss your chance to ride aboard the Hooka Train — get there early, this show WILL sell out!