Many artists throughout history gain respect because of their lyrics. Many gain respect just because they can make a fun, catchy tune. The really special artists combine both of these, and that’s exactly where Donovan Woods sits. Mostly known for his heartbreaking long-distance tale “Portland, Maine,” his new EP entitled Big Hurt Boy elevates him to new heights. Caring none about what genre to fit into, Woods creates a musical space for every emotion he feels, propelling his voice out into the world for everyone to hear.
“I Won’t Mention It Again” takes the opening slot as an opportunity to encapsulate childhood. With his slightly whispered voice, Woods sings about his seventh year and how different the world was back then. Pop-inspired melodies play behind a lone acoustic guitar before percussion takes over, sweeping the song into a wash of emotion and beauty. Thoughtful, radiant and emotional, this is everything a first song should be.
The second track on the EP, “Leave When You Go,” gives another look into who Woods is as an artist. A subtle, yet steady snare keeps tempo as piano chords and Woods’ raspy voice create a soothing and powerful feeling. In an introspective song about being comfortable when you are uncomfortable with love, he is joined by genre-bending singer-songwriter, Ralph. The two create seamless melodies that pair perfectly with the solemnity of the track.
The most-streamed song on the project so far, “I Hope You Change Your Mind” is a heartbreaker. While it could be almost insignificant because of their volume alone, the guitars, percussion and piano create a melancholy aura around the song that allows Woods to deliver the heaviest words of the entire album: “My mother loves you like a daughter I’m not saying that I’m like your soulmate or some bullshit movie line but now you’re crying in the kitchen.” “Use tissues as needed” could be attached to the song title as this track is brutally gorgeous.
The closest to folk you can see Woods step is in the penultimate track entitled, “A Picture of Us Smiling at a Party 5 Years Ago.” Living up to the promise, this song really is a description of a picture. Yet behind each image within the picture, Woods connects it to a lost love perfectly capturing the clichéd experience of “seeing them everywhere.” With this slower song, the intentionality and emotion from the previous songs do not fade.
Just as in all the other tracks, in the final song on the EP, “No Time Soon,” Woods wastes no time setting up instrumental intros—he’s too talented and his lyrics are too potent to waste time on that. As it is the slowest piece on the project, there is a haunting beauty to “No Time Soon.” For all the pain that has exuded from these songs, Woods finds a strange, cold form of peace at the end of the EP with the final words ringing, “I am sure that you think of me, scarcely, if at all, but if you do some night quite suddenly, don’t hesitate to call, even just breakfast, in some greasy spoon, someday, no time soon.”
Many times, if a “country” album has too many pop elements to it, it is often brushed aside quickly as “cheap” or “fake.” This is not the case. Artists such as Ruston Kelly, Miranda Lambert and even Sam Hunt to an extent find ways to be intentional with adding elements of pop in their music. Donovan Woods is another one of those artists. The bottom line is that this album is an absolute work of art. The beauty of the melodies is hard to come by in any genre from any decade. Woods’ voice is soft, even whispery at times, but it aids the album’s theme of pain. The lyrics are deep and strangely relatable—a balance that is hardly ever struck well. Every aspect of this album is incredible, and Donovan Woods with Big Hurt Boy has produced one of the best projects of the year.