Bob Woodruff: The Year We Tried to Kill the Pain

BobWoodruff_TheYearWeTriedToKillThePainA 1990s Nashville artist finds his soul down a rough road

Singer-songwriter Bob Woodruff garnered good notices for his mid-90s major label country albums Dreams & Saturday Nights and Desire Road, and then fell largely out of sight. He finally resurfaced for an indie album in 2011, and recorded and released the original version of this album in Sweden in 2013. Luckily, Woodruff’s soul- and country-tinged rock is timeless, and a 2016 reintroduction to this release is as welcome as the less-widely circulated first blush three years ago. Returning to music after several years of hard living, Woodruff not only sounds seasoned, but full of life experience to funnel into both the words and melodic tone of his songs.

As good as Woodruff’s originals are – and we’ll get to those in a minute – his slow, country-soul crawl through the Supremes’ “Stop in the Name of Love” is revelatory. The song’s opening guitar figure gives no clue as to what’s coming, but as Woodruff launches into the lyric’s plea with a slight hitch in his voice, the guitar turns to chords whose familiarity will provoke the listener’s memory. The tempo is similar to Jonell Mosser’s cover from the film Hope Floats, but underlined by Clas Olofsson’s pedal steel, Woodruff’s vocal mourns a relationship that’s already finished, rather than one that might be saved through confrontation. Among the song’s many varied renditions, this one’s a tour de force.

Woodruff sounds a bit like Bob Delevante, and a bit like Willie Nile, pulling in rock, country, soul and blues influences that range from the Byrdsian “I’m the Train” to the New Orleans funk “Bayou Girl” to the crooned southern soul “There’s Something There.” The opening “I Didn’t Know” strikes a tone of recovery, with happy memories reawakened by a second chance. The title song recounts rougher years, resolving to remember the past without getting stuck in its decaying trajectory. Woodruff longs for connection to others, to a better self, to a past whose fissures were of his own making, and most of all, to the salvation of hope.

The path from self-pity to self-examination to self-confidence is drawn in the personal reckoning of “So Many Teardrops,” with a breakdown that keys the song’s emotional turn, and the album closes with an impromptu live performance of the wishful “If I Were Your Man.” One might think the album’s material is solely a product of Woodruff’s wilderness years, but several of the songs, including the title track, are drawn from his earlier albums. The repurposed material is transformed by its distance from ‘90s Nashville, freed from the confines of the city’s sound. This is the record Woodruff had in him twenty years ago, but not yet the miles on his soul or the independent distribution to deliver. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

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