Bluegrass Duet's Rustic Debut Single Is a "Cure For the Blues"
To those who haven’t been paying attention to local bluegrass music much at all the past couple of years, Wood Willow might sound like some homespun brand under which a couple of salt-of-the-earth folks craft jewelry from semi-precious stones or belts from full grain leather. Y’know, artisanal stuff.
Music fans hip to the scene, though, will likely know that Wood Willow is a music duo based in Oklahoma City. This folky partnership between musicians Becca Harrod and Joel Parks is comprised of nothing more than mandolin, guitar, and vocal harmonies, yet it brings a strong, classic sound that continues to perk ears even in the middle of quarantine.
The two have played a slew of virtual and socially distanced shows these past 10 months, ranging from Ponyboy’s livestreaming series to Arts Council OKC’s #ArtMoves program to the roof of a concession stand at Guthrie’s Beacon Drive-In. Wood Willow is on an upward streak, and yet, though the band’s gigs can land on big stages, its sound sticks to simple acoustic pleasures. It stays true to the essentials of the craft. Y’know, artisanal stuff.
Speaking of which, that opening bit about jewelry and leather? Well, that was what is called a double bluff. The band actually does make those custom goods on the side, still under the Wood Willow name (go on, take a look) because, to quote an enduring word of advice, why not both? It’s all part of the same creative energy, capable of running through object and soundwave alike.
In this sense, Wood Willow is part of a proud and underrated tradition in Oklahoma music. Plenty of songwriters from these parts love to work with their hands. Clinton Avery Tharp upcycles home furnishings, Chase Kerby has been known to build desk lamps out of repurposed plumbing, and Ali Harter makes all sorts of cool things with her Pigs Fly Shop. This is pretty noteworthy in an age when the idea of customization is more likely to apply to an algorithm than an armchair. Wood Willow is part of the exception to the rule.
If there’s one piece of the artist portfolio that the duet has been missing, however, it’s a proper studio recording, but that changes today. “Every Day” is the debut single from Wood Willow, and you can hear it now in this Make Oklahoma Weirder track premiere.
“Every Day” is a bright, hopeful number about choosing love, clinging to truth, and living in the present. These are big topics to be sure, but the way Wood Willow sings and plays them, any heaviness that might lurk here is blown blissfully into the wind like a dandelion. The chipper mood and empowered vocals keep everything so at ease that when the song addresses the storms of life, it’s filled with as much cheer as its carefree “la da da” segue. That’s because it trusts in a deeply-rooted foundation of courage and trust. Even in the thick of ill weather, Wood Willow can already see the sun rising on tomorrow’s horizon.
Like woodcarving, the production by renowned Norman, OK, studio 115 Recording focuses less on embellishments and more on whittling down what already exists to a sharp clarity. Wood Willow and company stick to their acoustic guns and only bring in an upright bass (Lucas Gilette) to help ground the recording. As far as bells and whistles go, there isn’t so much as a tambourine here, just the strums and picks of the duo’s respective stringed instruments.
The light arrangement serves the sunny nature of the song, but it would be a mistake to think it frivolous. As “Every Day” champions simple wisdom, it practices what it preaches. It doesn’t merely suggest keeping one’s chin up. It demonstrates it through songwriting, performance, and the aforementioned arrangement. Wood Willow is well-versed in the blues, as proven by other songs in the repertoire, but the duo makes a conscious choice to lead with optimism on its debut.
It’s worth mentioning that Wood Willow’s Becca Harrod and Joel Parks are also prominent members of the well-regarded Oklahoma bluegrass band Steelwind. There are similarities in the two projects, naturally, but Wood Willow carves out a nook for itself as a distinct style and identity. Perhaps this participation in a full group like Steelwind satisfies Wood Willow’s potential cravings for a bigger sound, allowing it to rest comfortably in its two- and three-piece intimacy. This dynamic may also speak for the two projects’ songwriting differences. For example, Steelwind’s 2016 album F5 is a reference to and fixation on a stormy, destructive relationship, whereas Wood Willow’s first track out of the gate is all about not getting too hung up on life’s tornadic twists. “Every Day” in such a conceptual polar opposite that, in some ways, it has more in common with a completely different piece of work.
Though it’s far from jazz music, there is a striking similarity between this song and the recent Pixar film Soul. There’s a brilliantly articulated line here–“searchin’ for somethin’ that’s nothin’ but what you make of it”–that does a better job of summarizing the message of that movie than many attempts that have been made, and it’s by complete happenstance. “Every Day” was written long before Soul even had a theatrical trailer. The chorus reminds that “Every day is a song to be played,” and if this parallel of two fairly distant artistic worlds doesn’t prove the universality of such a mantra, what possibly could?
All philosophical analysis aside, “Every Day” is also just a great tune, a happy little tree in a musical landscape of colorful brushstrokes. Listening to Wood Willow in such a cheery place is like a tall glass of iced tea on a summer’s day. It’s the kind of old-fashioned that doesn’t get old. It’s a book that becomes a place of comfort and joy upon subsequent reads, and though the words remain the same, sometimes the experience tells a new story between the lines. Handcrafted art has a way of doing that, after all.
“Every Day” is now available to stream and purchase on all of the usual online merchants. However, since today is Bandcamp Friday, this is a great time to pick this song up at Wood Willow’s Bandcamp page (or at the player immediately above) to ensure this duo gets 100% of your purchasing dollar.
Lastly, consider also subscribing to the band’s YouTube channel, where today’s lyric video premiered, and follow Wood Willow on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to stay up to date on all current and future developments.
aka Jarvix, the Chief Executive Weirdo of Make Oklahoma Weirder. His out-of-the-box music coverage has been published by the Oklahoma Gazette, KOSU, and The Oklahoman among others. He also makes DIY music as a solo multi-instrumentalist live looper in his spare time.