I first became aware of Ontario-born singer-songwriter Donovan Woods through an UNCUT Magazine Cd Sampler that featured his song, No Time Has Passed from his 2011 album, “The Widowmaker”. It was love at first listen.

What immediately struck me about his songwriting is his innate ability to tell a story. Stories with multi-faceted characters, a plot, some twists and turns and, above all, feelings and emotions in every single line he writes. You are, quite literally, there with him or with the character.

And what can be said about the man’s voice? He sounds fragile and vulnerable, which belies his actual gruff, imposing woodsman appearance.

A couple of months ago, CBC Radio 2 started spinning the first single, On The Nights You Stay Home, from Woods’ upcoming album, “Hard Settle, Ain’t Troubled” set to be released this Friday, February 26th. Featuring some gorgeous instrumentation including a string section and some vibes, the song gets its hooks in you instantly. “On the nights you stay home, I don’t even look at my phone, you need time alone and, I guess I don’t…”. He is clearly perturbed by her absence but is letting it go, he wants her to take whatever time she needs and not worry about him, or anything. It’s a beautifully self-effacing lyric yet speaks of the inherent need he has for her.

 

Charles Kelley of Lady Antebellum fame recently closed his solo album, The Driver, with Woods’ gorgeously evocative Leaving Nashville and it’s easy to see the attraction Kelley must’ve felt to the material. It’s a gorgeous, simple melody and there’s that heavy-hearted Waiting For Godot-sentiment of “you can talk about leaving all you want but you and I both know you ain’t going nowhere.” When he whispers, over his hushed acoustic guitar and the beautiful sound of the lapsteel guitar: “I ain’t ever leaving Nashville…” in the final seconds of the song, one cannot help but be moved. It is one of many highlights on an album filled with them.

Speaking of Woods’ songs being covered, album closer Portland, Maine, was made a major radio hit in 2014/2015 by Country superstar, Tim McGraw. “See I’m just saving us some trouble somewhere down the line, this kind of town you just leave behind” he sings, poignantly, resigned to the inevitable. He wants her by his side, no matter the cost – no matter the sacrifice.

 

One of Woods’ many strengths is he never hits you over the head with the characters’ needs and desires, like the best storytellers, he lets us figure it out on our own. He evokes a mood and a feeling and it is up to us to connect the dots. Another good example of this is the wonderful album opener, What Kind of Love Is That? The song seems to be about a friend who’s in a negative, perhaps abusive relationship and he’s asking this person if it’s really worth it. Over fingerpicked acoustic guitar and strings, Woods provokes and pushes further: “What kind of love just criticizes, ostracizes, cuts you down to size?” The track builds up so effectively and powerfully, you cannot be left indifferent.

The album’s centerpiece, They Don’t Make Anything In That Town, is also perhaps its masterpiece. He tells the story of the once vibrant small town where his parents built their family back in 1975. Alas, like so many small towns we know, the city has since lost its spark and slowly died. The piano-led song, accompanied by a lonely, fragile violin, speaks of dying dreams and a need to get out, break out into another world. As always, Woods’ vocals are so affecting and beautiful. Like a Jason Isbell or Josh Rouse, he never overacts or lays it on thick. He lets the strength of the words do the work.

Donovan Woods 2016

There are shades of Ray Lamontagne on We Never Met and one can hear the influence of the indie rock scene on tracks like Do I Know Your Name and Between Cities yet Woods’ always remains unmistakably Donovan Woods. A voice I hope we will all recognize someday as a familiar and reassuring presence on the music scene. I will be going to his show in Montreal at L’Astral, March 25th, and this singer-songwriter hopes to be able to shake this brilliant man’s hand, thank him for the songs and inspiration and also give him a copy of my own album. It is a rare thing to encounter a singer-songwriter of such beauty and brilliance. “Hard Settle, Ain’t Troubled” already has a guaranteed spot on my list of this year’s best albums. A triumph.

“Hard Settle, Ain’t Troubled” is being released February 26th, 2016, on Meant Well Records.

DONOVAN WOODS
Hard Settle, Ain’t Troubled
(Meant Well Records, 2016)

-Genre: folk
-In the same vibes as Ray Lamontagne, Josh Rouse, Jason Isbell

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Listen to videos on the artist’s YouTube channel

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About The Author

Max Comeau
Blogueur - RREVERB

Intensely passionate about music, Max is in constant search for new sounds yet he never tires of his idols whom he calls his “Pillars”. A musician himself, he released, as singer-songwriter, an album with The Calm in 2007 and, this past June 2015, released his first solo album, “You”. Max has also written a few plays and adaptations which he staged with his theater troupe in the early 2000s. He is thrilled to be part of the RREVERB team to further explore the great classics, as well as the newer classics-to-be, whether ‘en français’ or in English.