Roots Music column, August 19- Joe Vickers & The Deep Dark Woods

In my Roots Music column in today’s Red Deer Advocate, I advance the local roots events and feautre two fresh releases by Canadian artists. Joe Vickers has released a wonderful little album detailing the coal mining and pioneer heritage of the Drumheller Valley while Saskatoon’s The Deep Dark Woods have produced a new album that extends their streak of challenging, listenable music. The newspaper appears to be limiting access to their material so readers visiting may not be able to see the material; you’ll have to buy a paper! If you want to see one of the reviews, I’ll post them here in a couple weeks.

And here they are:

Joe Vickers Valley Home Self-released

Joe Vickers is a young songwriter from Drumheller, and with the Drumheller Valley celebrating its Mining Centennial this year he has produced an ambitious and enjoyable collection of music tracing the history of the region.

Valley Home is a collection of original songs of the Drumheller region with a focus on the stories and impact of the coal mining experience. Thematically reminiscent to fellow Albertan Maria Dunn’s We Were Good People which examined the labour history of western Canada, Valley Home educates as it entertains.

Utilizing a variety of approaches, sounds, and tempos, Vickers has created a compelling and insightful account of his home community. The music is rustic with lots of acoustic guitar, fiddle, and banjo coming through the neo-traditional mix. Vocally, Vickers sounds a bit like Paul Burch.

More than a history lesson- although it is indeed that- Valley Home is an engaging set of lively folk-inspired music. A broad cross-section of tales is revealed: pit ponies, the flooded Red Deer River, Allan Cup champions, ghost towns, miners, and madams.

“Into the Darkness” captures the starkness of the mines of a hundred years ago. The energetic instrumental “Boomtown Bustle” reflects the frenzied growth of the towns that rose around the collieries. Vickers borrows from “Down in the Willow Garden” to frame “Young Black Lungs,” telling the tale of a miner who finds that “the place I slave is now my grave.”

The accompanying 24-page booklet provides lyrics and additional information about the area and Vickers’ inspiration. For additional information on this recording, start at, or drive to the southwest; the album is available at Drumheller Valley outlets including the Atlas Coal Mine and the East Coulee School Museum.

The Deep Dark Woods The Place I Left Behind Six Shooter Records

Perhaps the greatest thing out of Saskatchewan since Fantuz Flakes, The Deep Dark Woods’ latest album builds on everything they’ve already accomplished while taking their unique bluesy sound to impressive new levels.

In 2011 no one talks in terms of alt-country, but that remains an apt descriptor of this Saskatoon band’s guitar-heavy sound. Sinister and mysterious, the title track doesn’t mess around: guest fiddler Kendel Carson weaves a cloak of darkness around Ryan Boldt’s vocals as a “good old rambling boy” pines for the place were isolation didn’t seem so obvious.

It seems silly to compare music created by today’s generation to those of musicians forty years ago, but The Band is a natural starting place for describing the intricate, moody sounds of The Deep Dark Woods. Much like Old Reliable did a decade ago, the DDW take their craft to startling new places while maintaining a foundation in the past.

Burke Barlow’s pedal steel colours several songs including “Mary’s Gone” and “Back Alley Blues” with lonesomeness. If found on an Avett Brothers’ album, “Sugar Mama” would be heralded as an innovative blending of modern mountain traditions; as is, it is just one of 13-incredible aural voyages undertaken by the quintet.

Epic, “The Banks of the Leopold Canal” is quite unlike anything previously heard. With rich instrumentation and an emotionally charged narrative, the song charts a soldier’s final World War II journey from Canada to Belgium.

A sure-fire contender for the 2012 Polaris Music Prize.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

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