Published Apr 19, 2018Like Kris Kristofferson and Steve Earle before him, Donovan Woods was an esteemed Nashville scribe no longer content to pen hits for others. With his new album, Both Ways, the Sarnia-born songsmith makes a strong case for his own share of the limelight.
It's a rugged, rocking alt-country romp, with Born in the U.S.A.-style stompers like "Easy Street," and "Burn That Bridge," breezy pop numbers like "Another Way," and "Next Year" and everything in between. The latter, along with his sweet and twangy new duet with P.E.I. songbird Rose Cousins called "I Ain't Ever Loved No One," will immediately please fans of Woods' preceding album, Hard Settle, Ain't Troubled. All that is also in line with his prior understated, radio-ready hits for stars like Charles Kelley ("Leaving Nashville") and Tim McGraw ("Portland, Maine").
All the more exciting, however, are Woods' more eclectic forays on Both Ways. Spare opener "Good Lover," and the more rollicking midway number "I Live a Little Lie" both boast bluegrass-esque strums. Orchestral strings give "Truck Full of Money," an epic heft. Then there's the marching band-style drums on "I Don't Belong to You," and the big, bold '80s synth riffs on "Easy Street." Suffice to say, Woods has shinier studio toys this go around.
Giving him a leg up in that regard is James Bunton, a burgeoning Toronto producer who helmed Woods' prior releases, but pulls out all the stops on Both Ways. Bunton gives otherwise straightforward singer-songwriter number "Read About Memory" a chilling twist by distorting Woods' vocals until they sound like a ghost's rasp emitting from a rusty ham radio. Better still is the angelic Cousins entry on "I Ain't Ever Loved No One," which Bunton wisely brings forth without warning, giving listeners a fresh foil to Woods gritty delivery.
With that robust production, Woods finally has a backdrop that lives up to his vivid lyricism. You won't just be won over by Woods' Steinbeck-esque eye for blue collar details on "Easy Street," or his moving love letter lyrics on "Burn That Bridge." You'll also be captivated by the grand instrumentation on those tracks. Indeed, Donovan Woods doesn't just write like a superstar on Both Ways — he finally sounds like one too. (Meant Well)