Every once in a while I come across a band and I’m so excited, so grateful to be the first to stumble on them. My hipster radar goes up, and I preen like the music critic I wish I were.
And then I realize the band has been making music for seven years, and there’s a deep back catalogue to explore.
Such is the case with Canadian folk-rock act The Deep Dark Woods. I’m sort of stunned that I wasn’t aware of them; anyone who knows me and heard this record would immediately think of my tastes (which is why I have to assume you guys don’t know about The Deep Dark Woods either!). That’s basically what happened; a new friend of mine read the blog and sent me a few records, including this one. And while so far, I have liked every record (and will probably be writing about a few of them), this record is the one that kicked me in the pants the most. It’s instantly engaging; it’s the kid who lives down the street who is exceptional at telling ghost stories, despite being beguilingly affable otherwise. This record sneaks up on you, plants itself, and haunts you later. And while I actually like the entire record, it’s the title track that instantly stole the show for me.
This song is so haunting I figured it had to be a traditional song of some sort, and I wasn’t totally shocked to find out it was influenced by an old folk standard. The song itself, however, is something that walks the fine line of feeling deep with history and also current. Lyrics like–
I’m a good old rambling boy
Now that’s just what I am
This feeling that you call yours
I do not give a damn
I’ve got the rambling feeling down in my bones
And everywhere you don’t want to go
The only place that I ever loved
Is the place I left behind
And then the vocalization between stanzas…wow. It’s the most haunted, most powerful part of the whole song. Ryan Boldt has a perfect storytelling voice: layered and exaggerated, he seems to paint smoke pictures of these characters as he talks. “Way out west, they don’t give a damn/ There’s half a woman for every man/ Going back to the place that I loved so much/ and the girl with the softest touch,” and then the sweet vocals. It’s easy to picture not just the place he left behind but the people and memories it’s full of. Though the story is specific, it’s easy to get nostalgic listening to this song. It’s an absolute masterpiece. And that’s to say nothing of the instrumentation, which is probably the first thing I noticed (whether I knew it or not). The strings– especially what sounds like a violin and a banjo– are really exceptional.
Another song that instantly grabbed me– perhaps because I love the use of organ– was “Back Alley Blues.” Right away, I was drawn to it. It’s easy to draw comparisons to The Band while listening to this song (I think it’s the keys. It’s got to be the keys). It’s got the same leisurely stroll to it, the same boozy vocals; the band sounds like they’re having a blast. And the lyrics are great, as well. This is a place where their absolute mastery of harmonies is evident, too– the “ahhh” chorus behind the last lines of the stanzas are phenomenal, especially on, “I walk these streets behind you/ Singing the back alley blues” (Especially in this live version!). Songs like this one and “Sugar Mama” make the record feel more well-rounded; the title track is so heavy and so full that it’d be easy to write them off as a “too-serious” folk band. But they have a sense of humor and fun; they write on caliber with Dawes, though I wouldn’t say they sound too terribly much like them.
Overall, the record is great– if you haven’t heard of these guys, you need to rectify that immediately. I was blown away by the sheer amount of good material there was. They play together so well, and they really have an ear for where to carve away space and let the music live in the moment. I’ll probably be hearing “The Place I Left Behind” in my dreams and in my head for a long time. It’s got the ambiance of a song that would make me want to write, too– not a bad side effect.
CATCH THE DEEP DARK WOODS ONLINE:
OR FIND THEM ON TOUR: