The title of the latest album from The Deep Dark Woods, Yarrow, is derived from the plant of the same name, which produces a small, aromatic white flower. It has long been prized for its medicinal qualities, never more so than during the Civil War when it was employed as a readily available means to stop bleeding.
In that sense, yarrow came to symbolize how The Deep Dark Woods’ front man and creative force Ryan Boldt managed to survive the past couple of years by putting his faith in the natural healing power of his own songwriting ability. Although long regarded as one of Canada’s finest roots rock bands, The Deep Dark Woods, for various reasons, ceased activities after touring in support of their 2013 album Jubilee. Boldt was left to decide his next move and ultimately chose to continue under The Deep Dark Woods banner.
“I’d worked for 11 years to get to where I was, so it didn’t make much sense for me to try to start over as a solo artist,” Boldt says. “I always had this vision of the Woods being an ever-changing band, so I see this new album as part of that evolution. I’d always written the majority of the songs, so no matter what I did, it was going to end up sounding like the Woods.”
Yarrow was laid down in October 2015 with Boldt’s fellow Saskatoon native Shuyler Jansen handling production duties, and Clayton Linthicum (also half of the acclaimed duo Kacy & Clayton) as the only member of the last Deep Dark Woods line-up to take part. Boldt points specifically to the song “Fallen Leaves”—Yarrow’s first focus track—as one of the signposts for his new direction. The Woods had tried recording it several years earlier to no one’s satisfaction, but through the input of a fresh set of ears, the combination of ancient themes and a modern production aesthetic helped “Fallen Leaves” set the album’s overall tone.
Boldt gives a lot of credit for finding this balance to Jansen, whose own music has always pushed the boundaries of roots rock far beyond the traditional norms. “Shuyler’s role was huge, from getting the right sounds to helping me write parts when I was stuck,” Boldt says. “He’s always been a pal anyways, turning me on to new bands that I never would have listened to. I tend to keep coming back to the stuff I’ve loved best, folk-rock from the ‘60s and ‘70s and earlier.”
The sense of being unbound by the constraints of time takes hold immediately on Yarrow. This is not just “roots” music; these are songs—like the nearly nine-minute “The Birds Will Stop Their Singing”—connected more to the elements and the Old Testament, songs based on primal emotions that remain within us, buried under layers of pop culture triviality. At the same time, Boldt’s effortless vocals carry the melodies like a breeze passing over a still lake, leaving only ripples as evidence.
Music, of the sort Ryan Boldt draws from, was once just as ephemeral. It was made for the sole purpose of telling a story. We have returned to that in some ways here in the 21st century, and the stories told on Yarrow will resonate as long as people have the desire to pick up wooden instruments and sing.
It’s been a decade now since The Deep Dark Woods released their self-titled debut album. Although very much a DIY project, it contained the seeds of everything that
would come in its wake. Signing with British Columbia-based Black Hen Music, the band’s next two albums, Hang Me Oh Hang Me and Winter Hours put them firmly on the national map, with producer Steve Dawson bringing out the traditional elements of their sound.
The Deep Dark Woods were named Best Roots Group at the 2009 Western Canadian Music Awards and Ensemble of the Year at the 2009 Canadian Folk Music Awards, accolades that boosted the creation of their next album, The Place I Left Behind, released in Canada on Six Shooter Records. Featuring keyboards for the first time, and guest turns by Old Man Luedecke and fiddler Kendal Carson, the album would go on to earn a JUNO nomination and land the group opening slots with Blue Rodeo and legendary Texas troubadour Robert Earl Keen.
Their 2013 album Jubilee raised the stakes even higher, as the band teamed up with producer Jonathan Wilson (Father John Misty), who brought a shimmering Laurel Canyon vibe with him from California. In turn, The Deep Dark Woods continued to make serious in-roads in the U.S., performing at Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits Festival, the Newport Folk Festival and elsewhere. Yet, the pressure to keep pushing things further eventually caught up to the band, setting the stage for Yarrow, released on Six Shooter, with Shuyler Jansen’s label Big White Cloud Records handling the vinyl.
“Throughout everything, I think my musical vision has remained consistent,” Boldt says. “The thing that always set us apart was that our primary influences where folk songs and artists from the British Isles. I think whatever I do will reflect that in some way. I feel very fortunate to have played with a lot of people from Saskatchewan who shared my passion for that music, and I’ve tried to maintain a community around that. I think with Yarrow especially, we’ve done something really special.”