Review: The Deep Dark Woods – Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, Belfast
Canadian-based five-piece, The Deep Dark Woods have been ploughing an unusual alt-country/alt-Americana/folk furrow since around 2005. Their last album was 2017’s Yarrow and it was a record full of dark and brooding tunes that could be described as more than a little gothic and (in places) macabre. Fronted by singer/guitarist Ryan Boldt there have been various line-up changes over the years with Boldt being the only constant. This was one of those nights when I arrived without knowing what to expect, having heard very little of their material beforehand.
Opening this evening are Kacy and Clayton (Kacy Anderson and Clayton Linthicum) both members of the current tour personnel of The Deep Dark Woods. Boldt plays bass for them and their drummer Mike Silverman is also from Deep Dark Woods.
The duo have been performing together since 2011 and have released a number of albums, most recently The Siren’s Song in 2017, produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. Anderson plays acoustic guitar and sings, with Linthicum adding electric guitar and some vocals.
Anderson has that mid-range country voice that reminds you of the likes of Courtney Marie Andrews and in other places, Emmy Lou Harris. “Brunswick Street” opens with tom toms, clanging guitar and shared vocals between the two leads. “A Certain Kind of Memory” comes across as an atmospheric waltz with Anderson’s voice acting as a counterpoint to rhythmic thud of bass and drums.
John McCart of Belfast’s Real Music Club introduces The Deep Dark Woods. We have Boldt up front, with Linthicum now on bass and Anderson providing backing vocals.Boldt’s vocals instantly lend the sound a much darker and grittier feel.
Evan Cheadle takes Linthicum’s place on electric guitar and Mike Silverman continues on drums. The opening tune is very Americana and immediately I’m struck as to how similar their sound is to The Band, even down to the drummer’s style, which in parts seemed to channel Levon Helm.
“Virginia” was a great country tune, livelier and sunnier than much of the tunes tonight with some melodic guitar licks. “The Banks of the Leopold Canal” has a touch of Bob Dylan about it, with a solo vocal introduction and a beautiful slide guitar solo by Cheadle leading into a big, brash finish. “Picture on My Wall” is a strange, downbeat and low key number, full of discordant guitar that wouldn’t sound out of place on a David Lynch soundtrack.
The big harmonies of “Two Time Loser” are fabulous and brings to mind Ryan Adams at his very best. This is followed by a somewhat underwhelming slower number before the pace picks up again with “My Baby’s Got to Pay the Rent”. After saying exactly two words all night, Boldt takes time out introduce us to the band via a lengthy, complex, comical and what seemed to be ad-libbed tale of coming to Belfast involving their hotel, having cheese burgers with green peppers, the lack of guards on the Montana border and cattle rustling.
The band finish on an extended version of “Roll Julia” and just like that they’re gone. No encore, despite the audience’s obvious desire to hear a little more. The Deep Dark Woods are a band with a great sound and quality musicians. Their material is nowhere near as dark and dreary as advertised; if I had one criticism it was their lack of engagement with the audience. Talk to the punters; do it early, do it often, don’t leave it to the very end.