Georgia Straight - Winter Hours
Ryan Boldt is not the world’s most original songwriter, but he’s alright with that. As far as he’s concerned, this just lands him in good company, given that icons such as Bob Dylan and Tom Waits have also been known to steal a line or two from time to time.
“I wouldn’t put myself beside Dylan or Tom Waits or anything like that,” he hastens to add, on the line from his Saskatoon home. “Those guys are absolute geniuses, so I can’t compare myself to them, that’s for sure—but I’d like to try.”
Judging by the third album from his band, the Deep Dark Woods, Boldt won’t be giving the authors of “Subterranean Homesick Blues” or “16 Shells from a Thirty-Ought-Six” many sleepless nights. At the same time, Winter Hours finds the Saskatchewan quartet in a mature, reflective mood. The new disc breaks from the ’70s-style country rock of previous effort Hang Me Oh Hang Me, falling more into conventional singer-songwriter terrain, and Boldt’s work reflects the many hours he’s spent listening to the folk-music canon.
On “Polly”, for instance, he’s lifted some of the action from the Civil War ballad “Pretty Peggy-O”. “As I Roved Out”, with its wandering-sailor narrator, touches on themes that English, Irish, and Appalachian songwriters have drawn on for centuries. “The Gallows” builds on Boldt’s fascination with death by hanging—a topic that has also inspired such notables as Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter, Richard Thompson, and Led Zeppelin. And “When First Into This Country” is, in fact, an actual traditional song.
“I read a lot of books on folk songs, like lyrics and stuff like that,” Boldt explains. “So it definitely leaps into my brain when I’m writing a song. I don’t even know that I’m doing it; it just comes out that way. I get an idea from reading an old folk tune, and then all of a sudden a new song comes out.”
Boldt’s so set on the Deep Dark Woods’ turn toward traditional folk music that he has some regrets about Winter Hours’ one concession to the band’s earlier sound, the relatively amped-up “Two Time Loser”. It’s not that the tune finds the Woods going all punk on us; instead, it sounds like something Waylon Jennings might have written for Gram Parsons to sing during his Flying Burrito Brothers days. It also gives producer, engineer, and guest musician Steve Dawson a chance to step out on slide—which, for Boldt, might be the one saving grace of the song.
“He’s just so much fun to work with,” the singer-guitarist enthuses about Dawson, who has also signed the Deep Dark Woods to his Black Hen label. “He just let us do our thing, but he added a lot of instruments and helped with the arrangements a little bit. I’d love to record with him again.”
Just don’t expect the next disc, with or without Dawson’s help, to veer off into heavy-metal terrain.
“I’m just totally obsessed with folk music,” says Boldt, and that’s the kind of addiction there’s no reason to quit.