Monday, January 12, 2009
To be honest, this review could have bern as simple as rewriting my initial reaction when I heard the first song from The Deep Dark Woods new record. As soon as the harmonies on All the Money I Had Is Gone started, I stopped what I was doing and wrote to my friend that passed along the track, "Wow. I always liked The Deep Dark Woods, but this song is incredible."
The band creates a nostalgic feel over the four minutes, but the song focuses on the struggles of a band instead of the more classic themes of heartbreak and loss. A simple picked riff starts the song and the band adds lap steel, keep-time drums and eventually spot on harmonies and a heavy Wurlitzer that coat the sound in sepia, but the juxtaposition of more modern lyrics makes this more than a simple rehash of the tried and true. You can't help but fall in love with the band, wanting bigger and better things to happen for them.
But when I hear a record as complete and rock solid as Winter Hours, I want to talk about it. I want to convince someone that has never heard of the band to take the time to listen. I want to point out the little things that forces me fall in love with the band and listen to the songs over and over. With all the music at our finger tips thanks to p2p networks and overzealous PR firms, finding a record with the purity that runs through Winter Hours is extremely rare and these types of records are why I keep blogging and why I will always be more of a fan than a critic.
The Deep Dark Woods honors the tradition of roots music and took the time to ensure their songs deserve the classic comparisons that are destined to follow. Gospel, traditional folk, pure country rock and dark roots all make an appearance, and remarkably, all are handled with aplomb and respect. A powerful, stripped down arrangement like the chilling opener Farewell, relies on nothing more than a fiddle, guitar and some harmonies but stands alongside playful, more spontaneous jams that are more about Sunday afternoon porch sessions and cold drinks that painful emotions.
The band is able to slow things down and tell a tale that draws you into the narrative, but is just as successful when they pick up the pace on gentle orange and brown toned country rock (Nancy) that feel as free as the morning’s first light. With harmonies and spirit, The Deep Dark Woods can make you smile and make you cry, but make sure to never rely on one emotion more than the other. That’s why a song like Polly - one that could have been unearthed from the a time capsule and was formed in a simple jam session - or the slow build that they execute so well on When First Into This Country can be nestled into the folds between more upbeat tracks like All the Money I Had is Gone, the Wilburys-ish, foot stomping Two Time Loser or the swirling chaos that ends the record (the last few minutes of the 8+ minute adventure, The Sun Never Shines reveals yet another wrinkle in the bands sound).
It must be mentioned that the work Steve Dawson put into recording the album was invaluable. Plain and simply, Winter Hours sounds terrific. His skilled touch and appreciation for the style of music The Deep Dark Woods plays lets the band revisit the past, but ensures they never let the record breakdown into a “sounds like” game. Even with the heavy Neil Young influence on the acoustic driven The Birds On The Bridge, the harmonies and band gives the song enough of their own personality. The sprinkling of piano and steel on the achingly sad, but equally beautiful How Can Try complete the song, but don't overwhelm the fragile emotion the band creates.
When a band grows this much on one recording, you can’t help but appreciate the results. The Deep Dark Woods have delivered a record that will surprise critics and fans alike. On the surface you could simply point out that Ryan Boldt has become a better storyteller (as As I Roved Out or The Gallows prove), but the confidence and skill of the entire band has improved considerably, allowing the quartet to move around the melodies and textures like a single unit. This might be the best roots act in the country right now, and they've set the bar high for any that want to challenge for the title.
MP3::The Deep Dark Woods - All the Money I Had is Gone
The Deep Dark Woods - When First Into the Country
On the flip side of the coin, I’m getting really frustrated by all the blogs that seem to thrive on ripping apart bands, like this is a job, like if you don’t review the band your editor will be calling for your head. If you don’t like a CD that a dude spent 10 bucks sending you – probably out of his own bank account - hoping for any kind of appreciation he can build on, don’t write about it. I'm sure your loyal readers will get the drift if you don't talk about the record. Using that excuse, “they sent me the cd to review, I have to be honest” is kind of played out, and if you are taking the time to bash a band whose goal is to get heard and maybe book the opening slot at a show so they can play for a handful of fans, bottom line, you’re a dick.
I’m not sure why the voice of a blogger has changed. Maybe it’s that shitty blogger entitlement or maybe it’s the fact a few blogs get paid big bucks to be taste makers, but I don't think it's a development, especially since most bloggers have little to no experience with music. Instead of searching for music that inspires us and trying to uncover the little things that make a song special, the "everyone has a voice" attitude gives anyone with a blogspot address and the harshest of pens the chance to tear down the work an artist poured their heart and soul into.
More and more people adopt the P4K mentality, but forget about the time required to digest a record or understand the simple thought that maybe a record takes more than a single pass to really hit home. Instead, "first post" is the new mantra and minutes after a PR email lands in our inboxes, 20 blogs are already posting on it. I know I'm an old fogy when it comes to blogging, but the daily reading used to be a lot more fun when it was original, honest, and positive.