Local Listen – Wood Belly Makes Strides in Newgrass

This is an entry in an ongoing series for 303 Magazine, which will provide a range of local album reviews. It is our intention to highlight the talents of local musicians, whether veterans to the industry or newcomers. Like the bands, the album can be fresh or something we just haven’t had the power to take off repeat in the past few months. Check out previous entries in the series here.

Newgrass and folk quintet Wood Belly released their second full-length album on January 31, and celebrated that feat with a same-day album release party at the Oriental Theater, supported by opening acts the Grace Clark Band and the Billy Failing Band. A month after the release of Man on the Radio and its accompanying celebration, Wood Belly continues to commemorate the album with a slew of both headlining and supporting tour dates across the Front Range and up into the Rocky Mountains throughout the remainder of the spring.

Since the January 31 release, the album has only gained momentum as Wood Belly brings their music to the Stanley Hotel this weekend in support of The Infamous Stringdusters, and to Leftover Salmon’s “Boogie at The Broadmoor” later this month. With the support of some of the biggest names in the world of bluegrass, Wood Belly will continue to make waves in the local music scene.

Following the release of their first full-length album, Wood Belly went on to win the 2018 Telluride Band Competition at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, so it’s no surprise they’ve secured shows this coming spring at the Fox Theatre, the Aggie Theater, Schmiggity’s in Steamboat and more. With a crisp and clear sound that proves practice can make damn near perfect, paired with lyricism that falls far into the poetic category, Wood Belly seems to have it all figured out.

In the past year, they’ve booked more headlining gigs than ever before, and the crowd at the Oriental Theater numbered over 400, which was an incredible culmination of both hard work and sheer talent. Once their in-state spring tour is over, the band will continue touring outside of Colorado, traveling to new places to build their market.

Though co-founding members mandolinist Chris Weist and guitarist Craig Patterson are the primary songwriters for the band, banjoist Aaron McCloskey shared with us that all five members write and create, so “there’s always new material.” Weist, Patterson and dobroist Chris Zink met at RockyGrass in 2015, and by the end of that year, those three had teamed up with McCloskey and bassist Taylor Shuck to form today’s Wood Belly lineup. While spearheaded by Weist and Patterson — “a pair of prolific songwriters” — it sounds like the band is a solid democracy, creating a sound that is part traditional bluegrass, part newgrass, some folk and overall is pretty fantastic.

Man on the Radio, which was recorded at Swingfingers Recording Studios in Fort Collins, is a 13-track album that lends a hand to Wood Belly’s cumulative creativity and musicianship. The songs tell stories, with 11 of the 13 songs having a definitive focus on their lyricism, like in title track “Man on the Radio.” Two instrumentals, “Blue Merle” and “Professor Willy’s Tonic,” create a pause in an otherwise poetry-filled album. The tempo of the album transitions flawlessly between fast-picking, like with “Caroline,” or a slower flow, like in “Seagulls.” The music takes the lyrics and accommodates itself around them, creating a delicious concoction of modern bluegrass music.

Written down, the words on Man on the Radio become modern-day sermons for the spirit, the ideal example coming from “Where I Belong” — “May the river run through me, flow right through my veins, ’cause a man in the window is only a name, I cast off my demons, my flesh and my bones, may the tall-grass surround me, right where I belong.” Backed by five musicians whose sound is so clean and tight, these stories and sermons are woven beautifully from the album’s start to its finish, doing true justice to the raw talent found within Wood Belly.

Listen to Man on the Radio by Wood Belly here.