Photo: Danielle Holbert (Shore Fire)

Donovan Woods Remembers “Our Friend Bobby” (premiere)

Folkie Donovan Woods' newest single "Our Friend Bobby" offers many angles to consider while reflecting on the loss of a childhood friend.

In the 11 years since Donovan Woods released his first album, the Ontario folk-rocker has gone on to collect a number of accolades. In recognition for his songwriting, he has been a long-time Polaris and Juno nominee as well as the winner of an English Songwriter of the Year award at the 12th Annual Canadian Folk Music Awards.

Listening to the songs adorning his new album, Both Ways (out 20 April via Meant Well), it’s easy to see why his songs are celebrated in the manner that they are. More often than not, they’re conscious reflections on a visceral concept. Woods invites listeners in through the front door and lets them feel something ardent, but it’s up to them to fill in the gaps on what exactly it is that they want to gather from his multifaceted way of storytelling.

“Our Friend Bobby”, for instance, is a deeply personal song for Woods. The song’s first line (“Cops found him on a Sunday / So we all met up Monday night”) indicates at its forefront that it has to do with the loss of a friend. Throughout its gentle, haunting sway, we are given some background into how Bobby ended up losing his life in a car accident. Although, it’s more about Woods’ ruminations on the aftermath of this tragedy that we are able to stew with the artist over the surrounding mystery—was it intentional or accidental? Does it ultimately matter?

There’s greater overall reflections at work here, too, as Woods elucidates to PopMatters. “‘Our Friend Bobby’ is an amalgamation of things that happened to people I know or to me. One of the ideas I was trying to get at was about childhood friendships moving into adulthood, and how the sort of emotional and physical violence that teenage boys sometimes subject each other to shapes our adult selves.”

This particular brand of lyric-driven determination feels like modern folk music’s antecedent. Like many of the songs dusting our folk shelves today, it serves as a personal, emotional vent for the artist to relay such an event to his listeners. With “Our Friend Bobby”, though, it’s best viewed when the listener allows themselves to delve deeper with Woods into its more determined cerebrum. It’s a testament to Woods, as a songwriter, to have drawn these meditations into the song to begin with, and as a performer to have let them permeate so naturally.