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Woodleg Odd - One Step Ahead

Woodleg Music Norway

12 tracks - Total time: 47:32

In my time as reviewer for Blues Blast I’ve learned just how much the blues is now an international music. I’ve listened to 1950s Chicago blues rendered with a Brazilian touch by the Robson Fernandes Blues Band, and jazz-blues and down-home stylings rendered with a Greek feeling by Paul Karapiperis. Now comes Woodleg Odd, rendering the hard-edged urban soul-blues with a Norwegian feel on their fifth self-released CD, One Step Ahead. As with the other artists mentioned above, the song lyrics are in English, and combines both an American fealty to the original blues while adding and elaborating them with feels drawn from their own creative approaches; they are interpreters, not copycats, and although interpreters from lands far removed geographically from Chicago or the Delta, one with them in soul, expressiveness and feeling.

Now comes Norway’s hot band, Woodleg Odd, taking its unusual name from the band’s drummer, Odd “Woodleg” Lie, whose right foot is made of wood. But the band’s personnel has a strong U.S. connection through its lead vocalist and slide guitarist Adam Douglas, who moved to Norway two years ago after stints with Watermelon Slim and the Midwest soul band, The GrooveHogs. Rounding out Woodleg Odd are guitarist Frank Utgaard and bassist Arne Moe. One Step Ahead was recorded in Memphis, Tennessee however, and produced by veteran producer Jim Gaines. All tracks are originals, ten of them written by Frank Utgaard and Adam Douglas; one, “Long Distance Love,” by Frank Utgaard and Knut Eilefsen, and the instrumental, “Walk Of Shame,” written by all the band members together. The music is solid contemporary soul-blues in the tradition of Curtis Salgado, Average White Band and my fellow Hoosier Tad Robinson, who lives in nearby Greencastle—from where he frequently commutes to blues-playing jobs in Europe!

But it’s not all that—while for the most part One Step Ahead is soul-blues, there are three tracks that are not, which are departures from the soul-blues genre. With all of the music quite satisfying, well-done, and ear-catching throughout—Woodleg Odd is comprised of quite substantive players, with the additional musicians on the CD top-notch as well. The original songs are all well-written, with arresting lyrics that capture the darker, more pensive and poignant, side of the human condition. Lead vocalist Adam Douglas, only in his twenties, has an edgy, emotion-drenched delivery perfectly fitted to the music he sings, with that note of desperation in his expression resonant with that of the late, great lead singer of the Four Tops, Levi Stubbs. Frank Utgaard provides plenty of delicious lead guitar work throughout, lead work perfectly fitted to the songs he’s playing it on, with strong, supportive underpinning from the rhythm section of drummer Odd “Woodleg” Lie and bassist Arne Moe—whose bass drives the fourth cut, “Reason & Rhyme.” Further, all the band members join together well in vocal harmonies.

Guest musicians help round out the sound with their supportive accents. The horns of trumpeter Marc Franklin and saxophonist Art Edmaiston grace the opening track, “Forever And A Day,” and track 3, “Back To My Old Tricks Again,” with solid R&B riffs that immediately brought to mind the horn-driven power of the Average White Band that I loved to listen to in the 1970s. Larry Byrne’s Hammond organ is an understated, but appropriately insistent, presence on eight cuts, with Svein Erik Aamaas accenting with keyboards on track 10, “At That Time.” Background singers Jackie Wilson and Reba Russell especially grace track 7, “Find A Way To Get Rid Of You” with their call-and-response vocals, and Frode Sundes adds supporting drums on two tracks.

The nine soul-blues songs explore, ruminate on pensively yet philosophically, the darker side of life and love relationships. They illuminate those hidden corners of poignancy, doubt, and resigned desperation we all face, and which the blues has always described so well. Doubts about relationships are expressed in “Back To My Old Tricks Again” and “Reason & Rhyme,” while “Forever And A Day,” “At That Time,” and the self-descriptive “Find A Way To Get Rid Of You,” are about relations ending, and being let down. This theme is expressed truly murderously in track 6, “Saints & Sins,” a tale of killing one’s cheating girlfriend. Track 5, “Long Distance Love,” continues on this pensive theme with its longing to hear from the woman he cares for, while track 2, “I Will Get By,” expresses itself on keepin’ on keepin’ on generally, unlike the above tracks, which focus more on keepin’ on keepin’ on with, or despite, romantic relationships. The above tracks are all medium tempo or fast tempo, but the pace changes on track 11, “One Step Behind,” a long soul ballad that pleads for understanding while philosophically ruminating on the singer’s inability to find that understanding. These are all high-quality expressions in contemporary soul-blues, bluesy in musical approach, soulful and emotion-drenched in vocal expression, with Woodleg Odd and their supporting musicians all thoroughly at home in that classic R&B tradition of the 1960s and 1970s that brought soul-blues to the fore as a new extension of the old blues.

Now to the three surprises, which are as high-quality as the songs mentioned above. Track 8, “I’ve Been Down This Road Before,” is a down-home electric blues with a distinctively country feel that’s supported instrumentally by Adam Douglas playing slide guitar, and Ronald Ottessen amplified blues harp. Ottessen’s sparse yet expressive harp is also demonstrated on “At That Time” in middle and ending harp solos, again in tandem with Douglas’s slide guitar. The next cut, “Walk Of Shame,” travels a different musical road altogether, as it is a bouncy jazz instrumental of several distinct yet interwoven parts, with Marc Franklin’s and Art Edmaiston’s horns doing 1940s-style swing riffing behind Frank Utgaard’s elegant, lacelike single-string jazz guitar that’s later overlaid with second-guitar playing of a blues-rock nature—while Larry Byrnes joins in at the middle with a funky Jimmy Smith/Jimmy McGriff-like Hammond organ solo. The final track, “A Thousand Times Before,” is different yet from the above two—it’s a late 1960s-early 1970s rocker that owes its musical inspiration to the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” As with the above soul-blues tracks, the “surprise” lyrics are poignant, meaningful and philosophically expressive, and the musicianship first-rate throughout the whole of One Step Ahead. Nothing odd or out of place when it comes to the artistry of Woodleg Odd!

One Step Ahead is available through CD Baby and !

Reviewer George "Blues Fin Tuna" Fish hails from Indianapolis, Indiana, home of blues legends Yank Rachell and Leroy Carr. He has written a regular music column for several years. He wrote the liner notes for Yank Rachell’s Delmark album, Chicago Style. He has been a blues and pop music contributor for the left-wing press as well, and has appeared in Against the Current and Socialism and Democracy.

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