“I’m not trying to start a new identity or anything,” protests Woody Wood on the other end of the line, his voice shifting from a relaxed conversational clip to an excited twang like an old transmission struggling between gears.
Even though Wood and I live in the same city, we’ve been having an awful time reaching one another, with the end result being a static-ridden phone conversation — and now one slightly agitated musician.
“It’s just that this new album is a really different project from anything that I’ve ever done,” Wood continues. “In that sense, I do want it to have its own identity.”
For most locals who know anything at all about him, it’s this: Aaron “Woody” Wood was one-fifth of the sincerely loved but only moderately successful Blue Rags, that Asheville band that found some national notoriety during their time on the indie-cred-bearing Sub Pop label.
Wood was the spastic Rag — the really spastic one. The wired oddball with the penchant for goofily surreal stage banter and outrageous clothing (outrageous for the throwback-music scene, at least).
Yet he has more of a pedigree than all that, being the son of noted bluegrass and old-time banjo player A.L. Wood. And in the 11 years the younger Wood has been playing professionally, he’s earned a reputation as an outstanding guitarist and collaborator.
A few years back, he made the enigmatic decision to strike out under the glitzier name of Hollywood Red, but with a less stylized sound. Wood’s new, self-released, self-titled album is a grab-bag mix of original songs — folk, bluegrass, rock, R&B, even a little power metal.
And it’s also none of these things. More precisely, it’s the music that bangs around inside Woody Wood all the time.
“The main thing people say when they hear these new songs — and I’ve heard this from several people — is that it’s like something they’ve heard all their lives, but they can’t remember where,” reveals the singer. “All this music is an extension of my childhood. Every song represents some kind of music that I was exposed to as a kid.
“The love affair with it never went away.”
Yet the new album marks some startling changes in direction for Wood. For example, the soul-inspired “Hold Your Tongue,” a song that first appeared on Collapseable Studios’ sampler CD, released earlier this year.
“I’ve always loved R&B and soul music,” Wood reveals. “It’s very near and dear to my heart. Mom had a rock background, so I’d also be listening to Percy Sledge, Chuck Berry and Little Richard. There’s just something about it, and I can’t get away from R&B music. I feel like I’m lucky to be able to halfway carry those kinds of songs.”
Thanks to guest appearances by some of Wood’s high-profile friends, Hollywood Red may be one of the best showcases of local talent to come along this year. West Asheville sirens Menage provide some of the album’s backing vocals, as does old-time singer Cary Fridley, Wood’s collaborator in the vintage-blues group The 24-7s (along with fellow former Blue Rag Scott Sharpe). County Farm bassist Paul Leech makes an appearance on the acoustic track “Coal Black Hair,” Acoustic Syndicate’s Jay Saunders shows up for “Hold Your Tongue” and DrugMoney’s Tyler Ramsey lends keyboard work and guitar throughout.
Interestingly, though, the most successful collaborative songs emerge courtesy of bassist Bill Reynolds and drummer Mike Rhodes — two more ex-members of The Blue Rags.
“It’s like playing with someone who can read your mind,” Wood said about working with the pair again. “I can come to them with an idea, and they know exactly where I’m going. I haven’t gotten to work with them on anything like this since we were in The Blue Rags together, and it was nice to have that energy on the CD.”
It’s a type of energy tailored to create a mood, perhaps, more than a masterpiece. While Wood’s vocal ability is notably more constrained than his guitar work, you can’t discredit his passion.
“As long as a song is heartfelt, and the person that is playing it loves the hell out of it,” he muses, “I’d go for that over originality any day.”
The CD-release party for Hollywood Red happens Friday, July 9, at The Grey Eagle (185 Clingman Ave., 232-5800), with Woody Wood, Cary Fridley, Tyler Ramsey and Menage. Show time is 9 p.m.; tickets cost $6.