“Royal and I have parted ways as friends.”
In the early days of this year, the unconventional songstress Sarah Slean penned a poetic but undainty blog about renewal. It was not sentimental. “So let the dead trees fall,” she wrote. “If no sap runs, it is firewood. Swing the axe. Shatter the mirrors. Tear off the old flesh. Get to the green.”
Get to the green indeed, golfers and fellow artists would agree. Within her 400 words on the rekindling of the muse, Slean devoted one sentence to her husband of four years, the romantic troubadour Royal Wood. They had parted as friends, as you know. Logs on the fire.
What music comes of all this from Slean remains to be seen. As for Wood, he has made his statement in the occasionally bustling folk-rock form of his fifth studio album The Burning Bright. The material, mostly written while Wood was holed up in a cottage in Ireland, was affected by his disappointment with the music business and the “dissolving” of his marriage. (Like Slean, the balladeer is a blogger, too.)
Wood’s manner is smooth, heartfelt and direct, an unsophisticated manner his fans value. “The telling of a chronicle, a wounded heart with a poison pill,” he croons on the album opener I Always Will. It is a parting declaration of his undying love as well as a progress report on his songwriting and himself. “I’m just a silly man of human flesh and bone, caught upon the story of our love.”
And to think, things looked so promising when Wood had released the lead single Forever and Ever. That cut mixes a McCartneyesque melodic lift with a Lumineers-like hustle, complete with clapping and a group holler of “hey hey hey.”
From what I understand, Wood resisted the issuing of such an upbeat single, as it hardly reflected his state of affairs at the time. His record label had other ideas, and so the chummy hey-hey-heys won the day.
Forever and Ever doesn’t really fit the album. The Burning Bright is what Wood said it was: the telling of a chronicle, with the song titles alone suggesting an arc. We have White Flag (“lay our weapons down”), I Wish You Well (“I’ll miss your simple cotton dress”) and Run Away (“with your heart in mine, I will leave behind all the bitter lies”).
The disc is no downer. It’s as rustic and horn-infused a thing as Wood has ever done, with the stylish musician trying on the current homemade fashion of banjos and glockenspiels and such.
Elton John and Bernie Taupin would approve of I’m Afraid, the album’s soulful best track, notable for the bitter line “an angel is a demon if she stands around in hell.”
The Light of Dawn is clappy and strummed insistently. It scathes (“you claim I was a broken man; you act so blameless yet again”) but rebounds (“freedom is the breath of life”).
Freedom, then. Slean talks about renewal and logs on the fire; Wood has made The Burning Bright. She writes about the shattering of mirrors; he, more than once, refers to the shards. Wood isn’t fixated on being cut. Rather, he’s picking up the pieces.