november 2009

Charlie Wood Flutter and WowFLUTTER AND WOW
Charlie Wood
Archer Records

There’s not much on Charlie Wood’s Flutter and Wow that betrays his decade-and-a-half-plus tenure at King’s Palace on Beale Street, where he often teamed with the legendary blues guitarist Calvin Newborn. No, the Charlie Wood we hear on Flutter and Wow aspires to classic pop respectability. To that end he’s formed an alliance with Norah Jones collaborator Adam Levy, who produces and plays guitar (electric and acoustic) on this album, and surely lent it some of Jones’s seductive soundscape, if that wasn’t already Wood’s backdrop of choice as a piano/organ master, songwriter, interpreter and cross-genre explorer. Though several songs here features horns supplementing the basic alignment of keyboards-guitar-drums-bass, Wood is most effective without a lot of embroidery, when his bluesy voice is unfettered in the mix and his personality more forceful. The cool Latin-flavored shuffle and melancholy vocal of “What You Will” comprises one of the year’s finest saloon songs, all moody, atmospheric lament, with a lovely, lonesome guitar solo by Levy supporting a tender reading of an elegantly crafted, poignant lyric. Similarly, the “sad and simple story of a love gone wrong” that is the album closing “The Song” is a sublime sendoff, with Wood’s evocative piano stylings gliding over a laid-back bass-drums shuffle rhythm as the singer smoothly croons his winsome tale of something lost along the way. Other roots surface in the upbeat numbers—the stomping “Be My Ball,” punctuated by Wood’s rich Hammond punctuations and stellar Memphis bluesman Billy Gibson’s furious, red-hot harmonica wailing, is a fiery blues-rock workout that produces an appealing hard edge in Wood’s soulful voice; Jimmy McGriff is smiling somewhere at the feisty, organ-driven cocktail lounge bopper, “Let’s Get Up and Walk Around Some,” which does indeed give Wood a chance to flitter across the keys with rather gleeful purpose. The covers are hit and miss, though, not nearly as remarkable as his amazing covers of “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” and “Back In the U.S.S.R.” on 2005’s two-volume Fried Glass Onions: Memphis Meets the Beatles. Wood would have been better advised to stick closer to the original arrangement of Paul Simon’s “American Tune” rather than jazz it up—the song’s weighty ambitions don’t sit well with Wood’s lighthearted approach, but then “American Tune” may well be one of those rare songs to which only its composer can do justice. Conversely, he might have figured out a new way into the dark drama of Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows,” but instead hews to a familiar arrangement and even lowers his voice to a Cohen-like rumble. He pretty much stays true, though, to the ominous, surging sound and feel of Tom Waits’s bittersweet beauty, “Johnsburg, Illinois,” caressing the lyric with appealing tenderness while the band plays low and mournful behind him ahead of the horns rising in a somber, reflective hum to add a touch of tragic grandeur to the setting. Charlie Wood isn’t one of those artists who bowl you over with the magnitude of any of his gifts or with bravura performances. He does what he does really well, better than many working in the same idiom, and wins you over in increments—the more you listen, the more you hear, and when all’s said and done, you go back for another helping. Somewhere along the way, he reaches you. –David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024