Black Music Matters Festival

Donovan Woods

Hard Settle, Ain't Troubled – 2016 (Meant Well)

Reviewed by Donald Teplyske

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CDs by Donovan Woods

Ontario, Canada songwriter and singer Donovan Woods' fourth album "Hard Settle, Ain't Troubled" receives a deluxe edition upon its stateside release. As on his previous recordings, this northern troubadour paints country-flavored word portraits in a non-abrasive manner that reminds one a little of countrymen Ron Sexsmith and Hayden.

Having placed co-writes with Tim McGraw ("Portland, Maine,") Billy Currington ("Sweet Love") and Charles Kelley ("Leaving Nashville," contained herein) and been nominated for the prestigious Canadian Polaris Music Prize, Woods' soft-voiced creations should find favor with those who appreciate songs that go a bit deeper than typical radio fare.

Ostensibly examining his youth, over a bed of piano Woods goes full Holden Caulfield on "They Don't Make Anything in That Town" before allowing his angst to discover serenity in songwriting. The lead track, "What Kind of Love Is That?" is a gripping and dark rumination offering resilience through Woods' desperate, staccato delivery, whereas the joys of homemaking are celebrated in the sly "The Nights You Stay Home."

In excellent voice, Woods reminds one of Jackson Browne and even Darrell Scott: there is a delicate balance between artistry and populist appeal within his music. Acoustic guitar is the most prominent instrument heard on many songs, but in places, as on "The First Time" and "They Never Met," more of an ensemble approach with significant percussion makes welcome appearance, expanding the listening experience with unusual textures.

"Leaving Nashville," a song about songwriting-"You're two weeks from sleeping in your car," is one of the song's more apt lines - closes the album proper, and it is an impressive creation - a blend of glory and pain, much like one imagines the songwriting grind to be, with an emphasis on the melancholy quality populating most Woods' songs.

The four bonus tracks offer a demo ("Put On, Cologne") and a new live track, "What They Mean," co-written with Kelley, that is impressive for capturing the free-spirited appeal of youthful memories common in modern country without slipping into parody, also common in modern country. The other live tracks -"Your Daughter, John" and "The First Time" reveal the humor and less introspective side to Woods; well at least, their spoken introductions do.

This 14-track collection is both a strong introduction to Donovan Woods and a solid affirmation that he is one of the bright voices on the Canadian and now North American singer-songwriter scenes.