A reporter once asked Lou Reed what he thought of The Band. His reply was something along the lines of “they’re great, if you want to sit on your porch and pretend it’s 1832.”
In some ways, that statement could apply to The Deep Dark Woods. Unlike bands My Morning Jacket, Wilco and Fleet Foxes, The Deep Dark Woods members make no effort to bring their brand of Appalachian folk music into the present. The melodies, instrumentation and lyrics all do their best to hold up the illusion that it’s still 200 years ago. Only it isn’t.
If I were judging the album as someone living in the 19th century, I might think differently. In terms of construction and song composition, Winter Hours is as solid as the evergreen wood the album’s rustic sound evokes. Most songs on the album are gifted with a classic and sad backwoods beauty, but at times a pop element buried within the songwriting bubbles to the surface. This occurs most notably in the strikingly Band-esque “Polly”, with its sticky 1970s bar band guitars and woozy melancholy.
Like The Band did on its classic 1969 self-titled album, The Deep Dark Woods is able to make music from the past by writing from the perspective of a person living in that time. The most memorable example of this from The Band is “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”, the story of a Southern general watching as his side lost the civil war. The equivalent on Winter Hours is “The Gallows”, a song about a young man hanged for murder.
The Deep Dark Woods’ principal songwriter, Ryan Boldt, has a novel-like ability to tell a story lyrically, with a knack for creating poignant characters and situations.
The way Winter Hours holds together stylistically, in addition to its highly literate lyrics, makes listening to it an almost conceptual experience. While the album lacks the charm of The Band, or the majesty of the Fleet Foxes that’s vital for 2009, Winter Hours is still a thorough and engaging listen. At least from the perspective of someone from 1832.