When Heather Kitching of Roots Music Canada asked me if I wanted to review Donovan Woods’ new album, The Other Way (Meant Well Records), an acoustic rendering of his 2018 Both Ways, my first response was, “no.” What more could I say about the songs that I hadn’t already said in my Both Ways review last year?
Then the CD arrived in the mail, and I listened. In 10 seconds, I was hooked when I heard a chord in “Good Lover” that isn’t on the original version, and as the record progressed, my eyes and ears got wider. It was such a different emotional experience. And then I listened again, and then again, and haven’t stopped listening, and I doubt I’ll be listening to anything else for quite a while.
These aren’t stripped down acoustic versions. These are practically brand new songs. The exquisite production was done by Todd Lombardo who also plays all the guitars and stringed instruments (acoustic, high-string, tenor, mandolin, hammered dulcimer, 12-string, classical, slide resonator). Donovan ONLY sings. It’s the same beautiful, intimate voice, of course, but even more so, which I wouldn’t have thought possible.
Every word is precious and so present, and there’s so much space and freedom in the delivery. He gave Todd full freedom to re-arrange, change chords, tempos, whatever else, and what a spectacular result it is. There’s more urgency to “Another Way.” “Burn That Bridge” is a prayer, and “Truck Full of Money,” becomes an elegy. “Our Friend Bobby,” one of my favorites from Both Ways, is one of the “super-highlights” of the record. The guitars are just masterful, and the song, always an arrow straight to the soul, now makes me weep. Tenille Townes takes on the duet on “I Ain’t Ever Loved No One.” She has a completely different voice and style than Rose Cousins (on the first version), and both are great foils to Donovan. “Easy Street” is somehow even more anthemic. “I Don’t Belong to You” is a meditation. “Read About Memory” is even more meaningful in this “quasi-classical” treatment, and the chord differences and slide on “Great Escape” give the song an edge I’m not sure was there before. The last song, the bittersweet “Next Year,” somehow manages to convey a “front-porch” feel and, at the same time, makes you feel like you’re eavesdropping on a private conversation.
Our snap judgments and preconception are often so wrong. You’d think I would’ve learned that lesson by now, but how was I to know that Donovan Woods could turn an acoustic re-make into something completely different? Both Ways may tug on your heart strings but The Other Way stretches them until they almost break.