A Pleasure Getting Lost: The RR Verdict on Yarrow by The Deep, Dark Woods
Feb 9th, 2018
Here at Euston Hall, we like to keep our fingers on the pulse of Americana, blues, folk and rock 'n' roll. One LP that's particularly grabbed our attention recently is The Deep, Dark Woods' Yarrow; Red Rooster fan and guest writer Simon Maher, follows its "golden breadcrumb trail", and expands upon his findings.
The Deep, Dark Woods - Yarrow (Thirty Tigers, 2017)
The Deep, Dark Woods first came to my ears, as tends to happen in this age of the ‘Similar Artists’ Spotify section, after exploring a playlist called Southern Gothic, comprising bands such as The Handsome Family and Andrew Bird. Upon first hearing the muscular drums at the opening of their latest offering, you might suppose it heralds a more pop-friendly sound to the music of the Saskatchewan band, who returned at the end of 2017 with this record after a five-year hiatus and with only two remaining founding members. A psych-flavoured organ sears in over the rhythm to add to the apparent ramp-up in energy since the band's last outing, but composer, singer and guitar player Ryan Boldt’s familiar, plaintive voice will-o-the-wisps to the fore to begin the story and we are in more familiar territory.
The Deep, Dark Woods’ compelling blend of wistful tales of loss and dark portraits of murderous resolve, calling out plaintively from the old frontier, lure the listener to crane in closer. Through listening we discover the fate of the sweetheart who has so wronged our protagonist – the matter-of- fact ‘Up On The Mountain Top’ ruefully reveals the only course of action: “You have another sweetheart, so I must take your life. And you can meet your lover, in the by-and- by; this world is not your home, dear; it’s way up in the sky”.
There is something of The Band to The Deep, Dark Wood’s music and arrangements, not just the Canadian perspective. The laid-back yet still mournful ‘San Juan Hill’ has a woody backbone like an outtake by Levon Helm and the boys, while silvery harmonies swell in and out like Emmy-Lou serenading with Gram on ‘Drifting On A Summer’s Night’. This Canadian band with a vintage heart are capable of such a haunting glimpse into Americana roots that perhaps only a band holding America (and its chequered history) at arm’s length can achieve. And yet, a country twang returns to reinvigorate the mood with ‘Roll, Julia’. It’s not Johnny Cash’s deep baritone that breaks over the familiar intro as might be expected, but Boldt’s quavering admission that “my feet, they
stumble, and my eyes can’t see; the evening sun is setting, and I got nowhere to be”, before a chiming Telecaster romps off on a bar-room break that would get the doseys doe-ing and the Stetsons doffing. ‘Teardrops Fell’ counterpoints the ghostly qualities of the album’s darker tracks – the opening bars paint a more cosmic vibe that may feel at home on a My Morning Jacket collection, but crisp drums and warm, chunky bass under caramel harmonies slide in to settle the song as the story unfolds. An Abbey Road-esque guitar line reaches on into the comforting chorus and after a short false ending, we are treated to a jammed outro that wouldn’t be out of place on an old Neil Young Reel-to-Reel master tape.
There is an earnest mood to the music they make that has no care for trend or era.
You could call it ‘Alt-folk’, although only with an occasional, faint refrain you could pin to the Fairporters, theirs is definitely a haunting old brand of thoughtful poetry with north American sensibilities. Sweetness and brooding darkness flutter through the voice of Ryan Boldt. Guitars and drums are sometimes barely there, sensitive to the storytelling. The woods are deep and dark, but there are golden breadcrumbs on the path and it’s a pleasure getting lost, anyway.
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