Only once in my life did I vote for a U.S. president that won. Not once have I ever voted for any record to win “best something” and seen that album win. Until this year. The album in question was Both Ways by the now Juno-winning Donovan Woods, so seeing him in concert performing (mostly) songs from that album was a sort of private victory lap for me, as it was a public one for Donovan.
As I am often either the oldest person at a concert, or looking out over a sea of gray, it was lovely, and a testament to Donovan’s music that it was truly a mixed-ages crowd.
The last time I saw him perform was a few years ago at the Fox Theatre, where about 20 of us stood in front of the stage. If he’s changed as a result of his Juno win for Contemporary Roots Album of the Year, you wouldn’t know it. He still has the same self-deprecating sense of humour and “every man” appeal. His between-song patter is as funny as that of a great stand-up comic.
The band is a dream band, made up of the same stellar musicians who played on the album (except for guitar). Joshua Van Tassel on drums, Robbie Grunwald on keys, John Disnmore on bass, and Dean Drouillard on guitar did a wonderful job of reproducing the album while adding other effects and “fairy dust,” creating a lush soundscape. The band was both sensitive and powerful – not an easy thing to do – and they never once overpowered Donovan’s breathy, intimate vocals. If only all bands had the restraint of the Opposition. There were subtleties not present on the recorded versions, which is what should happen in a live setting. The recorded material should come to life, and it did. A special nod to drummer Joshua Van Tassel, who can sound like the entire percussion section of an orchestra, or a “balls-to-the-wall” player, and STILL not drown out the vocals, and guitarist Dean Drouillard for ethereal and heartfelt slide guitar. I’ve already written about the individual songs on Both Ways, (Click here for an in-depth analysis and appreciation), so I won’t repeat myself here. I can’t even highlight “the best of” because every song sounded amazing.
He also included some of his earlier material, “Put On Cologne,” “What They Mean,” and “Portland Maine” (recorded by Tim McGraw), some done acoustically with the audience so attentive that no one even dared to cough. Eighteen songs flew by. For the last few songs, Donovan brought out the wonderful opening act, Katie Pruett (someone we will definitely be hearing more of), who did a great job singing the duet on “I Ain’t Ever Loved No One,” and a new song they wrote together, “She Waits For Me to Come Back Down.” The band carried all the harmonies on the record during the rest of the show, but there’s something about a female voice against Donovan’s soft, gravelly voice that is particularly satisfying, and I hope he includes more of that in the future.
With the success of his latest efforts, it’s clear that Donovan Woods CAN have it “both ways.” He can be a great Nashville co-writer AND an artist on his own.