When Greg Wood sings about death, as he does often on Ash Wednesday, he does so with frightening intimacy and a not unexpected sense of subjectivity. Spending two months in Ben Taub -- as Wood did in 2000 after a bout with endocarditis and a subsequent infection -- will do that to a guy. On one song he sings of coming close to burying himself alive in his own backyard, while another -- "Everything Is OK" -- finds him battling "seductive voices from beyond the grave / Say[ing] 'come on over and play, it's gonna be OK.' "
But thankfully for us, if perhaps not so luckily for him, Wood is listening to the siren songs of more earthly and earthy sirens such as this one from the Sticky Fingers-style sloppy-tonker "End of the World": "She smiled and flashed the diamond in her teeth / And dangled that cigarette just like Marlene Dietrich / She slipped her hand inside my vest / Numbers on a matchbook, bare sheets and left undressed / It's the end of the world with another beautiful girl / She raised a glass, and the tattoos on her arm / The eye of a needle and a dagger six inches long / So she knows her men always measure up."
Well, at least she didn't have a bowie knife tattoo
Like Kitty Wells sang, it wasn't God who made honky-tonk angels, and Wood knows it well. Not that Wood is much interested in His creation anyway, or at least any traditional interpretation of it. While this album may have a religious title, a quick spin of the title track finds the character drunk on the Holy Day, and as Wood sings on the banjo hoedown "Covenant," he believes religion is a cop-out, a place to hide -- the life pursued straight with no chaser is the only one worth living, even if it goes down your gullet rough and may be nasty, brutish and short.
Which is the way some people would categorize Sam Kinison -- the subject of one eponymous song here. Wood would likely agree with that characterization, except -- and here's the big difference -- those are all good things to him, and if Pat Green is the Carrot Top of Texas music, then Wood is the Kinison or the Bill Hicks. Green trivializes all that he touches, while Wood takes the great pain of the low life and transforms it into both high comedy and riveting drama.
As with Kinison and Hicks, he is an idealist gone bad, a romantic brutalized by life but clinging desperately to the decency he was born with, even if it's only "to keep his toilet clean and hide my poetry and dirty magazines." As he sings on the naked, madrigal-like closer, "Wishful Thinking": "I wish that everything that ever fell apart could come back together again / exploding backward into perfection."
And then, "But that's just wishful thinking."
So if it's ditties about beer, the road, tacos, Gruene Hall, San Antone and Ol' Mexico you're looking for, keep looking. Greg Wood can find more drama in his own backyard with a pint of I.W. Harper than the authors of those kinds of songs could find if you gave them a free pickup truck and a lifetime supply of gas and ZiegenBock.
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