‘The Place I Left Behind’ by the Deep Dark Woods
Review by Doug Heselgrave
Saskatchewan roots band’s third album builds on the promise of their earlier records to deliver a near perfect set of songs
What is it about the Deep Dark Woods that distinguishes them from so many other young roots bands who essentially mine the same musical ground? That’s something I’ve been asking myself as I keep replaying their wonderful new album, ‘The Place I left Behind.’ Because on the surface there’s not really much that separates them from a hundred other bands traveling through North America with wooly beards, faded plaid shirts and banged up guitar cases in tow. Love gone wrong, money frittered away chasing unfulfilled dreams, train steam curling around the bend as old best friends disappear beyond the horizon – it’s all been said and sung before. Surely, we don’t need to hear another ramshackle woozy song about rambling ways and loves who only want us when they’re hurting.
Go into ‘The Place I Left Behind’ with that attitude and see how long you can keep it going. Maybe you’ll break down when the listless harmonies of the opening ‘West Side Street’ slide in or if you’re especially hard to win over, it may take until the second – and title – track rolls around before you stop everything else you’re doing to ride wistfully down vocalist Ryan Boldt’s journey into restless heartbreak.
As on its predecessor, the Steve Dawson produced ‘Winter Hours,’ the songs on ‘The Place I Left Behind’ explore a mythological North America that has long passed if it was ever truly here. Like The Band before them, the songs of The Deep Dark Woods evoke the dusty corners and regretful morning after come down from dreams never fulfilled. We meet recently passed lovers never seen for who they are until glimpsed – too late – from the rear view mirror. Words unspoken at the time make their way into songs where despite the richness of Boldt’s vocabulary, the truest undercurrent of emotions are left for Lucas Goetz’s pedal steel to express.
Musically speaking, the same lilting Rick Danko meets Crazy Horse in Jerry Garcia’s back yard vibe that worked so well on ‘Winter Hours’ can be heard everywhere on the new record. Some tracks like ‘Sugar Mama’ are straight ahead, simple and lovely three chord folk ditties while others like ‘The Ballad of Frank Dupree’ dive right into the Neil Young cosmic sludge with such nuance and joy that it’s easy to imagine it as a highlight in their live set. (note: as good as this record is, the DDW are essentially a live band with the recorded versions serving as springboards for the songs in concert) Without Steve Dawson’s tasteful restraint and careful arranging to hold them in check, the band more fully explores the edges and emotional possibilities of their music in a way they’d only hinted at before.
To answer the question posed at the beginning of this review, what distinguishes The Deep Dark Woods from so many other similar bands is that listen as you might, their focus never breaks and their gaze never drops. Each of the members sounds completely comfortable and natural in the musical universe they have created. Nothing sounds put on. The archaic experiences and paradigms they explore are real to them and the reports they send back to the listener carry the weight of authenticity. And, you don’t need me to tell you how rare that is.
‘The Place I Left Behind’ is a record you need to hear.
This posting also appears at www.restlessandreal.blogspot.com
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