Charlie Wood oozes talent from every pore, and there's no getting around that. He's a gifted multi-instrumentalist with a flair for the keys and a smooth-voiced singer given to fits of complex wordplay. When Wood left his regular gig at King's Palace Café last year, Beale Street lost its brightest light and its most original, consistently thrilling musician. But Lucky, Wood's latest recording for Memphis' blues-and-Beatles-obsessed label Inside Sounds, is a beautifully crafted tease that only fully delivers in fits and starts. It's a concept album that frames the artist's autobiography with a groove-laden essay on urban blues in its various forms -- clever but a little dry.
Wood kicks off Lucky with an upbeat account of a young man's obsession with live blues, a song filled with soft-focus memories of the six months the artist spent on the road playing keys behind the legendary blues innovator Albert King. Front-loaded with sprawling barrelhouse piano and decorated with faded Polaroid images of local nightlife, "You Can't Teach That Stuff" celebrates Memphis music and musicians in the same way that Dr. John mythologizes the sights and sounds of New Orleans. It's a surefire crowd-pleaser full of innocent wonder and cocky "watch me now" swagger.
Lucky finds Wood, who penned all but three of the disc's 13 tracks, playing the role of one-man-band. He supplies vocals, backing vocals, keys, bass, drums, and guitar. Labelmate Billy Gibson shows up to add harmonica to a cover of W.C. Handy's "Memphis Blues," and Kirk Smothers provides some horns, but otherwise it's all Charlie all the time. He infuses the effective "Never Gonna Stop New Orleans" with plenty of Crescent City strut and pays homage to Booker T.'s gurgling, soulful Hammond B-3 on tracks such as "Ear Candy" and "Sneaky."
Lucky doesn't have a hair out of place, but there's nothing on it that Wood hasn't done better and less self-consciously on his previous releases, Somethin' Else and Southbound. The disc's scholarly perfection doesn't showcase Wood the journeyman musician so much as Wood the onetime English major compiling a sonic term paper. It plays out like a collection of B-side gems from an A-grade artist. -- Chris Davis