Donovan Woods, Canada's 17th best songwriter

Donovan Woods Delivers the Goods

When I first heard it, Donovan Woods' music took me by total surprise, and that says a lot when you consider how quiet and understated his album The Hold Up is in comparison to my short attention span.

But there I was, up on a ladder painting the ceiling in the kitchen, listening to CBC Radio 3, when Donovan's song "He Drinks Gas" comes on with its peculiar opening lines ("I bet him he wouldn't drink any gas and he did just to spite me") and I was hooked, even though it was nothing more than a guy with a guitar telling a strange little story punctuated with some gentle touches of piano and banjo. Immediately it was down with the brush and out with the laptop, and within minutes I learned that not only was he a TO resident, he also had a show coming up at the Savannah Room (294 College, $10) on Saturday, February 2nd.

I soon find out that the guy who sings the nice, quiet songs on record actually plays out with a fairly loud band. Donovan explains, "it's still sort of folk music but it has like a sort of more electrical back to it ... it gets pretty raucousy ... just so people will shut up and listen. When a band plays, everybody listens; when you just play alone, nobody cares." Barely a minute into our first conversation, it's obvious that he's a master of understated self-deprecation.

I've heard rumour that he's working on a new record and ask Donovan if playing in the band situation is affecting the way this album is being put together. He tells me it's having a definite impact, and that this time around it's going to be a band effort in the studio. The quiet, intimate moments will still be there, but they'll be used for contrast this time. Right now, he's just figuring out which of the 30+ songs he's written for the record will actually get recorded, besides the four that are already finished. "It's all about divorce," he confesses, prompting me to ask if there are any personal demons being exorcized along the way. Donovan swears he's "never [been] married, never been divorced; I'm just really into it right now."

Oddly enough, when I researched the University of Guelph theatre grad who makes a living appearing in beer commercials ("It feels awful, but it pays the rent," he admits) I stumbled across a lot of football references. One of his most successful tracks, "My Cousin has a Grey Cup Ring," featured in last year's Grey Cup broadcast, almost didn't get recorded for fear it would be perceived as a novelty song based on it's title alone. Still, the song written for his father, whose cousin played for the cup-winning Alouettes in the mid-70's, has an honesty to it that transcends novelty, and in my humble opinion he's got nothing to worry about.

Donovan's other football connection has to do with a 6'3" 230 lb namesake, a senior on the Oklahoma State Cowboys squad who's just getting ready to make the leap into the NFL. A sports hero adored by thousands in the Sooner State, the other Donovan Woods "basically emailed me saying, 'who the fuck are you?'", Donovan recalls. "When he's Googling himself he gets this folk singer from Canada. It must be a real drag for him." We have a good laugh over this, and then Donovan quickly brings it back to earth saying "I hope he doesn't get famous."

Oh well, regardless of what happens to his Google ranking once his namesake turns pro, I'm going to remain a loyal fan of Toronto's Donovan Woods and wish him all the best (even if the other guy could pummel me).

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