Toronto-based folk singer Donovan Woods has built himself one hell of a career based on a concentration of brutally honest lyrics that have always made his songs easily relatable, along with instrumentation that has charmed the ears of listeners with crisp simplicity. Hard Settle, Ain’t Troubled is the Sarnia, Ontario born songwriter’s fourth album and it stays true to the formula that got Woods to where he is today. If this formula were for let’s say a box of cookies however, the packaging would probably read, “new look, same great taste!”
At its core, Hard Settle, Ain’t Troubled, is the same Donovan Woods you’ve had three previous albums to fall in love with. Songs of healthy love, remorseful feelings between ex-loves, odes to the love that never was, anthems of small town Ontario life, and the perilous reality of Nashville. Only now, these songs are spiced up with a zesty dose of bells, xylophones, violins and cello.
“On the Nights You Stay home” is a fantastic Toronto-centric portrayal of the need for trust in relationships in which Woods assures his girl that “on the night you stay in, I don’t run into your friends at a party in Parkdale, at a bar in the east end.” There is something purely blissful about the melding of darker drums and guitar, and the lithe, metallic hue of bells and xylophone that comes in shortly after two minutes. The song’s conclusion is sure to bring tears and trust as the built up cacophony of sound gives way to the cadence of an orchestral string section.
As my tagline at the bottom of this review states, I grew up in a field of cows. So it is no wonder that “They Don’t Make Anything In That Town,” is a personal favorite. This is the honest story of Wood’s upbringing in Sarnia and the need to escape from it. The crisp and woeful piano mixing with violin does a wonderful job of lending to the emotion of Woods talking about singing at a friend’s funeral or making up songs in hopes of avoiding life as a trucker.
“We Never Met” is easily the queen bee in this album full of stingers. It begs the question of what life would be like if two lovers could pretend for just a moment…or a lifetime, that they had never met. It brilliantly shows off the strength Woods possesses when it comes to writing songs. The instrumentation is steel-like and simple following the musician’s previous formula.
The album closes with “Leaving Nashville”, an honest look into the country and folk music capital of the world. A good friend of mine who recorded his most recent album in Nashville once told me that it is a duplicitous city where there are two categories of musicians: an elite class who shine like stars and sing songs for dollar signs, and a working class who turn out tunes for the love of it and just barely get by. Amongst several outstanding lines in the song perhaps the most captivating is, “friends of friends with country stars, they’re buying homes and here you are. You’re two weeks from sleeping in your car. But you ain’t ever leaving Nashville.”
Hard Settle, Ain’t Troubled is exactly like that box of new and improved cookies. You’re going to pick it off the store shelf and buy it because of the branding on the box. And thanks to that new formula with the same great taste, you’re going to end up giving it more than one or two tastings so to speak. The new strength in instrumentation demonstrated throughout the ten-song album is sure to keep you salivating for more.
Luke Williams grew up a fan of punk and pop punk in a field of cows just outside of Barrie, Ontario. You can follow him on Twitter @musicwithluke