If you played “Miles and Miles,” the opening song from Deep Dark Woods’ newest album Jubilee on your CD player or dialed it up on your iPod and thought you were listening to a recently discovered Neil Young and Crazy Horse recording from the early ‘70s, you could be excused for your error. The fuzzy guitar tones, yearning bass line and ambient feedback that cushion the hurting and pure vocals suggest the kind of warmth and spaciousness of Young’s earliest and most vulnerable work.
The Saskatoon-based outfit’s fifth album was produced by Jonathan Wilson of Father John Misty and was largely recorded live off the floor in a remote cabin near Bragg Creek, Alberta. Like all of Deep Dark Woods’ records, the songs on Jubilee reflect hard-luck stories and the kind of life and death situations that have always been the stock and trade of folk and blues musicians. Like Bob Dylan before him, lead singer and songwriter Ryan Boldt wears his influences on his sleeve as he uses the language of vintage North American roots music to express his tales of love, loss and redemption. And, while it is very easy to pinpoint specific influences—“Red Red Rose” sounds like a forgotten song by The Band that is grounded by a wonky, off-kilter rhythm section that recalls Levon Helm and Rick Danko at their carefree best—that would miss the point. Sure, it’s possible to hear echoes of Tim Hardin, John Wesley Harding-era Bob Dylan and way more than a dollop of The Grateful Dead in these grooves, but that would take the focus away from just how great a record Jubilee is. They proudly wear their influences on their sleeves, but they are just a starting or jumping-off point for them to create music that has resonance.
Somehow, The Deep Dark Woods pull it off and make music that is referential and while still sounding naturally authentic at the same time. The band comes off as far more credible than any of the multitudes of beardo, plaid-shirt, faux-”back to the land” groups that are competing for our attention these days. The reason for this is that the members of Deep Dark Woods aren’t acting or taking on personas when they make music; their songs offer a true reflection of who they are and the world they see around them. The prairies in Canada are like nowhere else on earth, and for those who have experienced them, it sounds completely natural to hear Ryan Boldt reference Neil Young. Both men grew up living under the same immense skyline and feeling the poetry suggested by wide-open spaces that stretch as far as the eye could see.
Jubilee could be the record that breaks The Deep Dark Woods south of the Canadian border. The songs cover a wide range of territory from roots-rockers like “18th of December” to sensitive ballads such as “Picture On My Wall” that eulogizes the end of a relationship while acknowledging that there’s still a lot of healing to be done. Clocking in at over 10 minutes, “The Same Thing,” with its swampy organ lines and fuzzy fat guitar tones, shows that the members of DDW can jam with the best of them while the sinister Beach Boys-influenced harmonies on “East St. Louis” demonstrate how far they’re willing to push their sound into new directions.
Jubilee is a pleasure to listen to from beginning to end, and sounds better each time it is played. The Deep Dark Woods are a rare group who make the type of honest, timeless music that we don’t get the opportunity to hear much these days. Jubilee is their best album yet, and may very well be remembered as the most sincere release of 2013.