Donovan Woods’ work is guided by a mantra that only sounds simple: Good songs win.
Woods was raised in the small city of Sarnia, Ontario, to the sounds of country music, with a healthy dose of folk and pop, a combination that instilled in him a strong belief in the power of a good melody, the importance of everyday language and the potential of a carefully-crafted song. While amassing a catalogue of rousing and acclaimed music of his own, he has worked with some of the top songwriters in North America to craft cuts for performers ranging from Tim McGraw and Alan Doyle to Billy Currington.
It’s not that Woods makes music that is a product of both country and folk; it’s that he makes music that shows how distracting the line separating the two can be. Like with so many songwriters of note, what matters isn’t what you call it, or where it comes from, but the stories you tell, and the voice you use. And whether it’s one of the world's biggest country stars singing from atop a full-throttle stadium-show stage or a line whispered by Woods himself in a more intimate environment, one thing remains clear: Woods’ is a voice that demands attention.
That attention has been quick in coming, bringing international accolades, and proclamations like “Canada’s best-kept secret,” “piercingly honest” and “quietly anthemic.” Throughout his work, Woods has remained focused on his one deceptively unassuming intent: crafting good songs – with an emphasis on ‘craft’.
It’s that mastery of the craft that places Woods squarely among the long line of great Canadian songwriters that have come before him. What unites all of Woods’ material is the people he sings to and about. Rather than an idealized working-class-hero version of “The People,” it’s the people that we know – the people that we are. Donovan Woods knows how we speak, think and act, and has a way of saying exactly that – and so much more – in a voice that we’ve been hearing for as long as people have been singing, and the likes of which we’ve never heard before.
Woods’ fourth studio album, Hard Settle, Ain’t Troubled, follows his JUNO Award-nominated Don’t Get Too Grand, and sees the songwriter in top form.
Whether big ideas or seemingly minor incidents, broken promises or the promise of romance, Woods’ stories affect listeners deeply. As he dissects the downward spiral of a small town (“They Don’t Make Anything in That Town”) you feel for the folks left behind, and a subtle string arrangement adds a delicate emotional layer that avoids overcomplicating or distracting from the song’s basic tone and language. The offbeat rhythm of “On the Nights You Stay Home” elicits the excitement of a hoped-for big-city quiet night in, while faced with the terrifying number of modern-day opportunities to be jealous. Rewriting history to confront a breakup (“We Never Met”) is a new twist on telling the story of a relationship – even if it might not be a reasonable coping strategy. Given Woods’ songwriting successes you can’t help but ascribe “Leaving Nashville”’s dark vision of Music City, USA to an active imagination, but the details contained in the lyrics make you wonder about his source material.
Throughout Hard Settle, Ain’t Troubled, what is clear is that Donovan Woods possesses a voice made to tell stories – his stories, and ours – and one that can’t be ignored.