Heath Andrews 4.5 / 5 stars
Return is the 2013 sophomore album from Australia’s Linda Wood. Over the course of its eleven songs, Wood embraces pop mixed with an assortment of different flavors, including rock, Latin, and jazz. All of it is tied together with Wood’s strong, pop sensible voice and stellar musical performances from her backing musicians. While not every song is golden, most of Return is a joy to listen to.
Wood begins with the poppy, loving, “A Kiss I Will Remember.” The cute lyric about young love is powered by her staggeringly sweet, clear, and theatrical voice. The music itself is surprisingly compelling given the rattling drums, melodic piano, and snarling guitar solos. The solo is actually quite astonishing given that it comes from out of the blue, but still works wonderfully in the context of the song.
“Bubbles” the following track, also has those guitar licks pop up, but the lyric is, for lack of a better phrase, too bubbly. “I wanna hold your pithy rainbow in my hand/Like a little puppy chasing butterflies.” The juxtaposition of “pithy rainbow” and a puppy chasing butterflies makes the lyric go from inspired to saccharin in the course of seconds. Still, the musicianship is fantastic as are Wood’s vocals. And as far as lyrics go on the album, this is the only real misstep.
Wood’s lyrical strength can be more readily heard on later songs such as, “Shut Up and Dance.” The Spanish guitar and Latin hinted melodies are meant to evoke the image of a dance floor, which they successfully do. The lyric is an anti-love song of sorts with Wood demanding that her lover not talk and just do what he’s best at, dancing. It’s kind of tongue-in-cheek emasculatory and that’s what makes the lyric work so well along with its genre bending musicianship. It’s also worth noting two other songs that sport distinct styles, “Lost My Heart” and “Pretty Baby.” The former of the two pairs the imagery of getting back up on a figurative horse with guitar tones that are straight out of a classic western movie soundtrack. The latter has a slight jazz feel to it and builds a fairly large vocal arrangement on top of it; larger than you’d expect given the track’s low-key beginnings.
Wood has her fair share of poignantly romantic pieces; “Your Love Makes Me Beautiful,” “Kissing in the Streets of New York,” and “Boat and Sail” make up the bulk of them. In keeping with the rest of the album, these songs are actually full of pep, including the initially stark, “Boat and Sail.” The track gradually goes from piano and voice to something complex and haunting. The guitars churn atmospherically in a kind of U2 style while the piano maintains a grounded melody and emotion. Near the song’s end, the guitars chime out while the drums crash down in a beautiful cascade of sound. The other two tracks are less complex in their arrangements, but “Kissing…” manages to bring back those snarling guitars to a lyric that is surprisingly lovelorn for all the energy it has to it.
The best piece here is the fantastically catchy, “Nothing to Wear.” The wordplay is especially noteworthy as Wood sings, “Pieces of my life are hanging everywhere/My cupboard’s full of clothes/But I’ve got nothing to wear.” The singer laments that nothing in her wardrobe can make her feel good about her life at the time, despite and perhaps even because of the meaning those clothes have. It’s a tightly written song, clocking in at a little under three minutes, but between the amazing hook in the chorus, the stirring guitar solo and vivid imagery, this piece of the album leaves you wanting more.
The closing track, “You Liked It” is a missed opportunity for Wood to end on a powerful note. The lyric sounds deeply personal as she sings about a relationship, having children, and the growth of a family. It begins with an acoustic guitar and her voice, and that’s where it should’ve stayed. The drums, additional guitars and piano only detract from the lyric in this case, and though the song is quite good, it feels restrained by its arrangement.
There are a great number of fantastic songs on Return. Linda Wood is a phenomenally talented singer and songwriter, as her second album unquestionably proves. The sheer number of enjoyable performances, from her singing to the work of the session musicians is staggering. Wood adds a lot of variety to her record by dabbling in various fields of pop music to great success. Mild quibbles aside, Return was well worth the wait from Wood, and it hopefully is a sign of more great things to come.
Kelly O'Neil 4 / 5 stars
Review Summary: The majority of songs could very well appear on the next High School Musical soundtrack
Australian songstress Linda Wood’s anticipated sophomore album Return features top notch production and well-structured songs, however the intended listening audience is a bit convoluted. The majority of the content is geared more towards the thoughts and emotions of teenage girls, however there are more mature moments as well. This collection of songs runs the gamut from school bus romance to married copulation. Regardless, Wood delivers this mixed bag with confidence and pizzazz. She is an excellent singer who plays upon her vocal strengths and knows her limitations.
Wood’s sweet, innocent voice relates the immature “A Kiss I Will Remember” from the school yard that would be more suitable for a made for TV movie on the Disney Channel than an adult contemporary piece. Many of Wood’s songs reference dancing and these social occasions are important pinnacles in the life of a teenager. “My Turn” is about a timid dancer watching her partner delight on the floor. It has a captivating sway with the sizzling energy of Center Stage and other similar choreographed films. The vocal fall ending the line, “I know I’m right where I want to be,” into the keyboard interlude is weak putting a damper on the energy of the song. This unfortunate road bump occurs again in the coda. Lacking the patient confidence the heroine in the previous songs finds is “Pretty Baby,” a light jazz piece about a different girl at the dance who is afraid to stand out from the crowd.
Lots of descriptive words make up Wood’s lyrics which in turn make it easy to imagine these songs fitting appropriately onto a soundtrack. One of the best songs on the album is “Your Love Makes Me Beautiful” with its accessibility from pre-teens to young ladies incorporating many different musical ideas from quiet thoughtfulness to an electric guitar jam, yet Wood fits them together nicely. The companion piece to this could be the catchy “Nothing to Wear”. This could be the grand sing-along number of the movie featuring the pretty heroine dancing around her bedroom flinging garments about complaining, “My cupboard’s full of clothes / But I’ve got nothing to wear”.
What makes Return a strange listen is that these delightful juvenile pieces are then paired up with more mature adult songs. The single “Shut Up and Dance” is a flirty romantic samba with acoustic guitar and hand percussion. The trumpet work adds a sensual tingle as the literally titled piece finds the couple on the dance floor communicating without words. The second single, “Boat and Sail,” while also for a mature audience, is a lumbering uninteresting love song. Its dullness might be overcome if more tender instrumentation were applied. “You Liked It” is a truly personal account of Wood’s own relations with her husband from the mundane to the intimate.
Wood’s songwriting skills are credible, but she needs to hone in on her intended audience. Musically her songs are highly listenable but lyrically they either appeal to the young or mature, not both simultaneously.
Dan MacIntosh 4 / 5 stars
Linda Wood is an Australia-based singer/songwriter. Her album Return may not be an extremely innovative 11-song collection sonically, but the variety and especially the individuality she invests into each of these songs, helps set it apart from typical recordings of this nature.
The album opens with a unique song titled “A Kiss I Will Remember,” which recollects Wood’s first kiss as a first grade child. This may not have been true love, the way we view it as adults, but instead the innocent puppy love of children. Yet Wood puts so much sincere memory into the writing and performing of the song that – if you also experienced such a playground kiss – it will take you right back to that magical first schoolyard moment.
When I say this album is not overly creative sonically, by the way, what I mean by that is Wood doesn’t do anything new musically. This isn’t a mishmash of instrumentation, for instance, that suggests any brand new genre. That’s not to say, though, it doesn’t have musical variety. “Shut Up and Dance,” for example, has a distinctly Latin rhythm, which is accented quite nicely with a stacked horn part. Then on “Lost My Heart,” Wood approximates the white reggae we love so well in No Doubt songs.
For much of this album, Wood’s singing voice takes on the character of the knowing woman of the world. But then she breaks from that stance emphatically with “Boat and Sail.” It is by far this album’s prettiest, dreamiest recording. Wood sings not as a been-around-the-block-a-few-times-gal, but as a one entering the magic of budding romance, much like the very first time, where anything (and all of it good) can happen.
The Wood of more worldly concerns is expressed through “Nothing to Wear.” It’s distinctly metaphorical as she sings, “Pieces of my life hanging everywhere/And I have nothing to wear.” It’s as though clothes represent the difficulty in putting on the proper emotional appearance to face the world.
In our ever image conscious entertainment world, it’s getting more and more difficult for artists to create sincere music. It’s particularly tough for woman. The entertainment machine is especially good at thoughtlessly selling female sexuality and far too many women are much too eager to submit to that evil machine’s will. Just ask Miley Cyrus. This truth makes Linda Wood’s music that much more remarkable and rare. She sings songs from her heart, instead of attempting to create gimmicky tunes to capture the public’s short attention span briefly.
The difference between an effectively personal recording and one that is far too generic can be compared to contrasting a family Christmas card with a corporate one. Those corporate ones are intended to imitate personalized greetings with inked handwriting that everyone can tell is printed, not written out long hand. On the other hand, those that are sent one family to another may feature a personal picture. In it, everyone may not be at their perfect weight. They may not be wearing the most fashionable clothes. Heck, the written section might even include a few typos. Nevertheless, the latter is so touching because you’re immediately aware of being definitively touched by real people, with an authentic communication. The same can be said of Wood, in that you feel like you know her a little bit better after listening to Return. Instead coming away impressed by sonic innovativeness – even though this is an expertly produced album – you feel as though Wood, the women, is expressed through her singing and songs.
Be thankful singer/songwriters are still making albums like Return. The music business is in dire straits these days and doesn’t just throw money at projects it doesn’t see as sure things. Think of Wood’s album as one that got past the penny pinchers, lucky for us.
"Just letting you know I have probably listened to the CD maybe 20 times now.
You have a winner there. Every listen just gets better and better.
My kids keep requesting bubbles. Seriously you should be proud, its really good." Derek Smith, musician
"I love it! The tunes are familiar yet highly original. It's like I've heard them before because they are catchy and melodic. It felt like a journey through … elements of classic bands like The Whitlams, Eric Clapton, Santana, Bjork and surprisingly Cold Chisel, mixed with the contemporary influence of Kylie, Jessie J and Adele. Yet the album is quintessentially, Linda Wood." Trevor Whittaker ~ performer, writer, director.
This album is the result of more than 5 years of writing, rewriting, performing and collaborating by Sydney based Australian singer-songwriter Linda Wood.
"My one goal was to produce a better second album - better songs and better overall production. I think I have achieved that and some! I have learned how to co-write and have included five co-written tracks on this album. I have learned how to use critique to improve what I do. And i have dug into my soul to produce something that is authentic in content and yet quality in presentation."
Produced at Origami Studios in Sydney's south by Steven Manovski this album includes the usual drums, bass, keys and guitar along with Linda's instrument of choice for live performance, the ukulele.