WHEN CONSIDERING our great neighbors to the north, one can immediately conjure images of vast maple forests, clumsily knotted with burls, sheathed with deep counterpanes of snow. Maybe you have never experienced this kind of snow before, but the moment your foot sinks in, you're trapped, much like the trees themselves. Something about the music of Saskatoon's the Deep Dark Woods—and their latest album, The Place I Left Behind—embodies this cold and diaphanous feeling, as if you could be lost and left for dead in that seemingly boundless Canadian forest, frozen in your tracks.
Distinctly American root systems snake through the music as well. It's as if the band blew the dust off some old Folkways records and found themselves possessed by the hollow and permeating ghosts of Appalachia—those folks that first developed music as an alternate language for the mountains. The album's title track is a haunting ballad eulogizing the comforts abandoned for a westward movement (a tune that's based on an old folk standard), while "Virginia" finds singer Ryan Boldt doing his best Lyle Lovett impression. The band just finished a tour through the South with Robert Earl Keen, whose "If I Were King" could stand tall and iconic for all that is American folk-country. They've found a niche in which they fit easily, even it's a bit further from home.
Nevertheless, there is one universality that surpasses locale, and that is the unique ability to tell a story with a song. The pinnacle of this is "The Ballad of Frank Dupree," a winding, seven-minute narrative in which a man is tried for an unexplained murder and revisits his past loves before facing his demise on the gallows. The song is nailed to sturdy rhythms and lifted by simple guitar lines and billowing organs—all of which remain steady, so not to detract from the story. However, the instrumentals wax into a barrage of polyphonies as the end draws near (just as one might imagine a life flashing by on a reel), and cuts down in a quiet huff to the last track, appropriately titled "Oh, What a Life." And life indeed, with regard to time and