After last years excellent Hard Settle, Ain't Troubled album. After working on not-quite-there songs which are too good to shelf. After proving himself a songwriter of worth — in my review of Hard Settle, I called him “top-percentile” because I did not want to go over the top, but what I meant is that he is as top-percentile as you can get. Hard Settle proved it. (Read my review here)
So why a four-song EP so soon after? According to Woods, “Three of the songs here are songs that were in the mix for Hard Settle, Ain’t Troubled, but just didn’t make it onto the final track list, because I didn’t want to rush the lyrics, or force them into being finished. “Empty Rooms” is a new song which I thought fit in here. The songs are about coping with loss, and wholesale changes, that sort of thing. The title I suppose is trying to get at the temporariness of everything. Time speeds up when you get older, that’s an observable fact, it starts to feel like you’re always chasing some ineffable thing. It’s why your dad often had a slightly bewildered look in his eyes.”
That statement says more than you know. I hear songs all the time that aren't quite ready. To me, it means not quite done because if you are willing to put out a song which could be better and you know it, you are cheating not only the listener but yourself. I get it that sometimes sitting on a song can be frustrating, but not sitting on one when you know it needs work is shoddy workmanship. Woods knows it.
The three he had hoped to include on the Hard Settle album would have fit beautifully, the smooth melodic acoustic feel a mirror of the topnotch songs which made the cut. “What They Mean” is slightly upbeat yet toned down, Woods' lightly textured voice matching the smooth sound of the band. When he comes to “That's what they mean when they say heartbreak/That's what they mean when they say crazy,” you're ready. The tone is set. “It'll Work Itself Out” picks up right where “What They Mean” lets off, a melodic ride through an emotional landscape Woods seems quite comfortable with. “Drove Through Town” rocks it up a bit but the feel is still there--- introspection, heartbeat, loneliness, love. They are the bedrocks upon which Woods creates. Just as on Hard Settle.
“Empty Rooms” fits right in, just as Woods says, a look at a lonesome that you can't miss. I remember when I first heard Greg Laswell's Through Toledo. It took three songs for me to realize that it was a soundtrack to his divorce, one which devastated him. It was magnificent and heartrending at the same time. I feel the same when I heard Hard Settle and now They Are Going Away. A lot of people may want to write about love and lost, and they do, but writers like Donovan Woods are the reason people still want to hear it. Some of his songs bring back memories I wish I could forget but probably need to remember. They ground me.
Woods took time to explain the songs, which I consider going beyond the pale. In his words...
“What They Mean”
“I wrote this song with Charles Kelley and my buddy Abe Stoklasa. Charles had an idea that he wanted to write a song about why they say the word crazy in country songs so often. Which I thought was a great idea because they do, they say it way too often. We decided to tell the story in a narrative way, explaining to a kid why those overused words get used so much. They’re place-holders for unexplainable feelings of love and loss.”
“It'll Work Itself Out”
“I suppose this is about feeling that if you travel furiously enough your problems won’t catch up and, ideally, will take care of themselves. This is not true.”
“Drove Through Town”
“Probably this song is about the activity of going on “a drive” which, for some people, is where most of their interior life takes place. I know there haven’t been many big moments in my life that didn’t have something to do with a car. It’s a good place to do some thinking, or to avoid some.”
“This one’s about a couple separating, obviously, and maybe about how it isn’t all that bad. “Barren walls are promising,” is the idea, summed up right there in the lyric. I, for one, really like empty rooms. I wrote it with Andrew Combs, who I’m a big fan of, about 20 minutes after meeting him, in my manager’s living room.”
Four songs on Woods' own label. It is a gift. For this, these were ready and not only were they ready they fit together. I really like this guy. He knows what he's doing. Songwriters should pay attention.
In case you think it a waste of time to link to my review of the Hard Settle album, here is why it is not.