To really listen, and to really hear, takes practice. Recorded in the ’70s and early ’80s like his exceptional album Neighborhoods and presented again by the Freedom to Spend label, Back to the Woodlands by experimental composer and public radio explorer Ernest Hood offers a perfectly inviting space to practice in. Like the former record, it’s simple enough on paper: Hood layers field recordings from his neighborhood in Western Oregon with washes of zither and synthesizer. But from the sitcom theme charm of “The Jantzen Rag (Raccoons)” to the fife and birdsong epic “Noonday Yellows” and the meditative lilt of the plucked “Sunny Banks,” these sound reflections of physical space are rendered dreamlike by Hood’s deeply personal choices. The album’s gentle melancholy is so charming it’s tempting to hear it all as a comforting parallel universe Mr. Rodgers soundtrack, Satie meets public access. But the world Hood created is more complicated than that, and songs like “Dusk” and “Into the Groves” suggest his sensitively minimalist capacities. Like my other favorite archival work of 2022, the phenomenal Step on Step collection of pioneering producer Charles Stepney’s home recordings, Back to the Woodlands is an intimate expression of open-hearted solo creativity, straight from Hood’s head and home to yours. | j woodbury
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