Royal Wood,
(Sherpa, 2003)

I hate singles. They're generally cheaper, but not enough to justify the paucity of music on them. Overall they're the free sample of the dealer, hoping to hook you with a seemingly innocuous level of experience. So I avoid singles. Royal Wood has stymied my disdain for that cruel lure with The Milkweed EP, theoretically his first full album. But can it be an album when the whole thing consists of five songs that come out to less than 17 minutes?

The brevity of Milkweed is made worse by the spun-sugar perfection of the songs. The lyrics read like a poet trying to give a detailed accounting of a dream. Sometimes the words lean towards grim truths, but Wood delivers even his darkest lines with a distant earnestness that lends the feel of a memory rather than a painful present. Breaking free from the normal conventions of meter, Wood's songs follow the music where it goes with a seemingly unguided ease. That music floats along the keys of Wood's piano, with drifting influences of guitar horn, and even bass. The instruments dance around each other with such careful arrangements that it sounds completely spontaneous. In these gentle dialogues of piano and guitar, drums and bass should be heavy-footed intruders, but they join the waltzing tunes with a grace rarely heard from the deeper instruments. Woven through his light compositions are surprising bits of whimsy; listen for the Gilbert and Sullivan tripping of his line about buttercups in "Of Milkweed" or the calliope style whirl whispering in "Chamomile."

Quality is supposed to count for more than quantity. But quality also inspires a need for quantity, and Milkweed is good enough to enchant while being only brief enough to tease. It's a proud, distinguished debut, to be sure. But it's not nearly enough. With luck, The Milkweed EP will profit Royal Wood enough to release a real extended play disc. Until then, these few weeds from a Royal Wood will have to serve.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 13 September 2003