Chris Batten and The Woods have a mission. They have come to tell us the soul of Rock and Roll is still alive and kicking in New Jersey.
Ever since Bruce Springsteen tore through the disco era with his fuel-injected "Born to Run" more than thirty years ago, Garden State rockers have been more than happy to act as a reality check to the music world. The Woods are a worthy heir to this tradition, their music is unpretentious, soulful and fun. These are the kind of songs that make you want to roll down the window, turn up the volume and hit the accelerator.
In addition to their acknowledged debt to Springsteen, The Woods also draw inspiration from The Stones, Van Morrison, Elvis (Presley and Costello) and Otis Redding, among many others. Batten's songwriting isn't an attempt to do anything radically different with the genre, just an effort to write good rock songs with craftsmanship and heart.
The band's lineup consists of Chris Batten on the lead vocals, guitar, piano and harmonica, Dustin Packard on guitar and backing vocals Richie Pearce on drums and Al Radice on bass and backing vocals. Pearce and Radice work together to provide a solid rhythm section, holding the songs together nicely. Pearce's drumming is particularly well suited, being varied enough to provide texture and the occasional pleasant surprise, but not so busy as to distract the listener from the other three quarters of the band.
The dual guitars of Batten and Packard provide a loud, full sound that is well suited to The Woods' particular brand of roots-rock, but things really get going when Batten sits down at the piano. They keyboard fills out the sound nicely, and gives an extra lift to the faster songs and a degree of sensitivity to the slow ones.
Batten's lyrics reflect life in the shadow of New York City. They range from the narrative ("Riot in the Streets", "Swagger") to the confessional ("Driver","By Your Side"). They're full of places, names, and descriptive metaphors. They often reflect on a sense of loss or missed opportunity and offer up some great twists of phrase, such as in "Old Soul Station":
"And some will run from love, but they just fall into the pocket of some inattentive stranger"
Chris Batten and The Woods are definitely worth checking out, live or on the web. They're frequently on tour throughout the Northeast, and make semi-regular appearances at New Brunswick's Court Tavern. They've got plenty of songs to hear on their web site and on their Myspace page.
In a music scene dominated by artists that seem to be trying to one-up each other with cleverness and cynicism, it's refreshing to hear some good solid rock like The Woods. Somewhere in the wilds of Jersey, they remind us, there are a few honest souls who are not interested in re-inventing Rock and Roll, they just want to actually play it.
Chris Batten and The Woods can be found online at www.andthewoods.com or on Myspace at http://www.myspace.com/chrisbattenandthewoods