The Deep Dark Woods: The Place I Left Behind

Photo: Francis A. Willey and Sanja Lukac

Getting lost in those Deep Dark Woods.

The Deep Dark Woods

The Place I Left Behind

Label: Sugar Hill
US Release Date: 2011-10-18
UK Release Date: 2011-08-09

Hailing from the deep dark woods of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, this rugged outfit makes its Sugar Hill debut with The Place I Left Behind, a 13-song, hour-long affirmation of the band’s reputation as solid leaders in the American roots music scene. This is the group’s fourth release and first since 2009’s fine Winter Hours but the wait -- as short as it’s been -- has been more than worth it.

The opening "Westside Street" is a curiosity, sounding like an eerie, late-night cut born of A.M. radio and all-but-empty country roads. More than that it proves that roots music has always had pop edges and that you can get people's fists pumping and feet moving without mimicking Bruce Springsteen’s mid-1980s stadium anthems. The titular track offers more of the same with eerie (that word again), foreboding vocals and chilly folk instrumentation, sounding alternately like despair and redemption. Ryan Boldt’s often icy but always emotive voice works its magic on "Mary’s Gone" and the hymnal, Band-ish "The Banks of the Leopold Canal", among others.

When the band raises its hair and saunters gently into rocking terrain, such as "Back Alley Blues" and "Virginia", it -- ironically enough -- loses some of its power and certainly some of its fine sense of nuance, but never so much of either as to derail the record. Moreover, the Deep Dark Woods is at its best when abandoning convention as it does toward the end of "Never Prove False", when the plodding ballad morphs into some sort of backwoods stomping waltz, sounding like a band of ghosts playing its final coda before the night, the band, and the audience finally cross once and for all into that other world.

That same, sinking feeling permeates the seven-plus-minute "The Ballad of Frank Dupree", the record’s penultimate track and one more stab at writing the ultimate epic ballad. It, like so much of the rest of the record, works better than perhaps the band could have hoped for as it transports the listener to some place not of this world and somewhere that is both familiar and yet utterly new.

The only genuinely forgettable moments on the record is "Dear John", which quickly becomes weighed down by roller rink organ lines, but disaster is quickly averted by the closing "Oh, What a Life". That said, if there’s one thing problematic about this record it is the lack of variety -- there are about 10 too many minutes of dirges that ultimate prove a bit too heavy to call The Place I Left Behind an unqualified success. But with as much good writing, playing, and singing as there is to be found here, it’s hard to complain about being in the presence of a band that does all of this so well.

If the Deep Dark Woods doesn’t earn immediate commercial accolades with this release it’s more a testament to a band that is a little bit ahead of its time, and a stubborn public that’s too rooted in the now, than any real failing on the band’s part.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

The husband and wife duo DEGA center their latest slick synthpop soundscape around the concept of love in all of its stages.

Kalen and Aslyn Nash are an indie pop super-couple if there ever were such a thing. Before becoming as a musical duo themselves, the husband and wife duo put their best feet forward with other projects that saw them acclaim. Kalen previously provided his chops as a singer-songwriter to the Georgia Americana band, Ponderosa. Meanwhile, Aslyn was signed as a solo artist to Capitol while also providing background vocals for Ke$ha. Now, they're blending all of those individual experiences together in their latest project, DEGA.

Keep reading... Show less

On "Restless Mind", Paul Luc establishes himself as an exceptional 21st century bard who knows his way around evoking complex emotions in song.

The folk-rock swing of Paul Luc's upcoming Bad Seed is representative of the whole human condition. Following his previous track release in "Slow Dancing", the Pittsburgh singer-songwriter is sharing another mid-tempo, soulful number. This time, it describes the way too familiar feelings of uncertainty and diversion can, at times, sneak up on all of us.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.