On his 2005 album Somethin' Else, Memphis organ master Charlie Wood delivered a sardonic, knowing paean to his hometown, pledging fidelity but with a comic caveat: "This is where I'm from/And it's where I'll stay/My heart and soul's in Memphis ... But if you think you can get me a gig/And it pays pretty well/In a Paris café or New York hotel/Or some Tokyo nightclub/Oh man, what the hell/Come talk to me in Memphis/I wouldn't come back 'til fall/If I dig it, I might not come back at all/But I'd dream sometimes of Memphis."
That flourish became prophecy this summer when Wood made a "full-on move" across the Atlantic.
"I've been based in London since late May," Wood says in an e-mail exchange from his current home base. "I really love being here, got a lot of friends and colleagues here, but I can't say it's a permanent move at this point. Musicians are in transit a lot of the time. But London is such a thriving cultural center in general and a music-business center specifically, plus it's logistically and geographically convenient for the kind of touring I've been doing lately. So I think it's a good spot to hang my hat for now. I'd never rule out returning to Memphis, though."
Wood will return home this week, if only for a brief time, to celebrate the U.S. release of his latest album, Flutter and Wow, his first for Memphis' Archer Records label. Wood will play the Levitt Shell at 7 p.m. Friday, September 11th.
Wood, a Memphis fixture known, in part, for his longtime residency at Beale Street's King's Palace club, signed with Archer roughly a year ago and recorded Flutter and Wow at the label's Music + Arts Studio with producer Adam Levy (a Norah Jones collaborator).
The album was released in Europe in May and will get a wide release in the U.S. on October 20th.
"I've been playing gigs in Europe for a long time now and have built up a following, as well as relationships with promoters, club owners, etc., so [Archer Records honcho] Ward [Archer] and I thought it would be a good idea to do a European release first," Wood says. "Also, the retail market for CDs is still much stronger in Europe than it is in the States."
Wood first met Levy at the 2008 Folk Alliance conference in Memphis, a connection encouraged by Wood's friend, Memphis saxophonist Jim Spake, who had played on an album Levy recorded in Memphis.
Working together, the pair came up with a batch of material — originals and covers — that emphasizes Wood's pop/jazz side and his compositional and interpretive skills, with versions of songs by Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, and Elvis Costello and Wood originals in a similar vein.
"We deliberately drew on work by the composers of the 'New American Songbook,' if you will," Wood says. "The CD is as much about songwriting as it is performance or production, so we really wanted to stress that element in the covers we chose as well as in my work. Adam selected almost all of these covers, by the way. He had this amazing ability to pick less-recorded material from often-covered artists that always seemed perfectly appropriate to me and to the project."
Wood says that about half of his own contributions were written specifically for the album.
"I've been participating with Adam in some songwriting workshops in recent months and a big burst of creative output often follows those workshops, so I guess we timed that well for the recording," Wood says. "For the ones written specifically for Flutter and Wow, the covers we'd chosen definitely informed my writing and also affected my selection of which of my originals to record. I'm in pretty illustrious company on this record in terms of songwriters, so I had to try to measure up."
Levy will join Wood onstage at the Shell Friday, along with a lineup of frequent Memphis collaborators, including bassist Sam Shoup and drummer Tom Lonardo (the rhythm section on the album) and a horn section of Spake, Kirk Smothers, Marc Franklin, and Scott Thompson. Wood will also return to King's Palace Friday, September 18th, accompanied by the City Champs' Joe Restivo and George Sluppick.