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The Deep Dark WoodsThe Deep Dark Woods
Album: Yarrow
Label: Six Shooter
Tracks: 9
Website: http://www.thedeepdarkwoods.com

Whilst by no means classing myself as a Deep Dark Woods completist, they have nevertheless been on my radar for some years now and 2009's 'Winter Hours' and 2011's 'The Place I Left Behind' still get taken out of my CD collection for regular airings. Their spare, Alt-Country sound has won them a staunch following over the past decade or so, as well as a nomination for the Emerging Artist of the Year award at the 2012 Americana Music Awards.

For 2017's 'Yarrow', talk is of a darker, earthy, English folk and country blues inspired set of tales. The website tells us "Yarrow was borne in a fever - scarlet fever, to be medically specific. A disease of the last century is a fitting backdrop for songs that dig bare handed into the loam to unearth the corpses of old English folk and country blues. After a five-year hiatus and band reconfiguration, Yarrow is The Deep Dark Woods reimagined by lead man Ryan Boldt".

Opening track 'Fallen Leaves' enters on drum and reverbed guitar before a deceptively jaunty fairground organ type figure takes over and as the band builds Ryan Boldt's trademark vocal intones 'Down in the yonder valley where the roses fade in bloom, buried my lovely Annie so lonesome in her tomb'. This is both a great song and unambiguous statement of intent!

'Up On The Mountaintop' follows in similar vein but with Ryan's voice slightly lower in the mix. It also highlights another facet of this album, whereby the recording and production values lend an almost late 60's early 70's feel to the songs and this one in particular conjures up images of 'Liege and Lief' era Fairport Convention.

'Deep Flooding Waters' is more acoustic based, with a courtly strum and lovely brushed drums. It also has a deeply intimate vocal where the sweet spot reminds of something between Teddy Thompson and Rufus Wainwright, with the addition of Ryan's slight 'crack' at the end of some lines when his voice falters beautifully.

'Roll Julia' is in and out in a sprightly three minutes, sounding like a gloriously slowed down 'Folsom Prison Blues' and is followed by the marvellous eight minute forty second epic that is 'The Birds Will Stop Their Singing'. To my ears, this is as about as good as music gets. Starting again with stark, heavily reverbed guitar and haunting vocal, the beginning of the track could be straight of the score of a Sergio Leone spaghetti western. However, a few lyrical phrasing tricks are thrown in such as 'And grey did turn the valley' where the use of the word 'did' pushes us back into traditional English Folk territory and something straight out of the Cecil Sharp songbook. The track then slowly builds, pushes and pulls with instrumentation layered up and beautifully haunting harmony vocals adding further depth. The nearest I can get to as a sort of comparison is all the way back to the late 60's once more and Fairport Conventions opus 'A Sailors Life'.

And so it goes for the remaining four tracks on the album. The jaunty 'San Juan Hill', trippy haze of 'Drifting On A Summer's Night', almost 50's balladry of 'Teardrops Fell' and the dry, weather beaten vocals of 'The Winter Has Passed'.

I think this is a very impressive album, immediately recognisable as 'The Deep Dark Woods' but with added depth, scope and gravitas. Grounding this sound in the heart of English Folk and Blues seems to have been a musical release for everyone involved and the playing, harmony vocals, recording and production are stunning. Lastly, factor in Ryan Boldt's voice. One-minute sweet high and lonesome, the next broken despair and just when you are hooked in, all bitter threat and menace. If Stephen King's' 'IT' was ever made into a musical, Ryan Boldt should be the voice of Pennywise!

Great record and I hope it gets all the recognition and airplay it deserves.

Paul Jackson