RUF “Estuary soul”, he calls it, “more Church of England than gospel”, this feudal mix of electric guitar, upright bass and the most restrained, grainy Hammond organ imaginable. Filing away at the buttoned-up mores of his home country with the laser-sharp purpose of a Shawshank inmate, English singer-songwriter Chris Wood has long assumed the role of both commentator and agent provocateur. He’s the living embodiment of what’s been called “bardcore” by Simon Emmerson, Woods’s fellow member of the collaborative The Imagined Village.
Four remarkable solo albums in, and Wood has again raised the bar. Abandoning his usual strippeddown sound for one rich in nuance and shade, Wood visits his attention on a bountiful collection of subjects and sources. He catapults William Blake’s short poem And did these feet into a searing meditation on England’s current state of disrepair, not by bowdlerising Blake’s words but by juxtaposing them with a languid, deeply respondent guitar line that underscores with pitch perfection each of Blake’s four posed questions.
None the Wiser was born while Wood toured the UK with Joan Armatrading, and its title track plays like a counter-insurgency attack on the clichés and chestnuts that dominate our news stories: “To the masters of the universe, we’re nought but fertiliser/what kind of beast is man?” he sings, his words bathed in a guitar line that hurtles towards infinity.
This is no barricade-thumping treatise, however, but a distilled and intimate collection of snapshots chronicling the sweetness of love, the fragility of sanity (with due deference to the wonderful English poet John Clare), the glories of ageing and so much more besides. Wood has written in the past of contemporary issues with more subtlety and humour than Billy Bragg and with a sense of history that solidly anchors his perspective.
Nobody comes even close to equalling his bird’s-eye-view round these parts lately, but None the Wiser will effortlessly feed appetites for sharp-toothed musical inventiveness in the meantime. chriswoodmusic.co.uk
Download: I Am, None the Wiser
None the Wiser