At my day job in a Vancouver Island music store, it has on occasion been my pleasure to serve Ryan Boldt, lead singer/guitarist with noted Saskatoon folk-rockers, The Deep Dark Woods. Judging by the range of vintage and obscure folk, country, bluegrass, blues and gospel vinyl he usually purchases, and the knowledgeable manner in which he speaks of them, Boldt’s appreciation of the music he favours runs very deep. When ringing up Boldt’s normally hefty pile of LPs on the till, if time allows I like to individually peruse his choices, whereupon, unprompted, he will often authoritatively enthuse about the artists or the material therein. Indeed, above and beyond ‘merely’ enjoying it, Boldt is a devoted student of the music he buys, eager to learn as much as possible, endlessly fascinated by its history and traditions, and the stories behind the musicians concerned.
Originally released without fanfare on Brandon, Manitoba singer-songwriter Jody Weger’s Dahl Street Records in November 2014, Boldt’s debut solo release, Broadside Ballads, is a love letter to his record collection. Now reissued (and released for the first time on vinyl) on a label collectively run by its roster, this understated and haunting album is – no more, no less – a collection of Boldt’s renditions of some of the traditional North American and British folk songs he holds so dear.
The song choices are telling, broadcasting plenty about Boldt’s musical preferences and fondness for the storytelling prevalence of the traditional folk canon. The first three and fifth selections – Love is Pleasin’, Just as the Tide Was Flowing, Rambleaway and Poor Murdered Women – have all been recorded by Shirley Collins, either with sister Dolly or Davy Graham. The great Collins is a huge influence on Boldt, but on Broadside Ballads he takes traditional songs indelibly associated with such legendary figures of British folk music, and with reverence to the source material applies his own Canadian prairies twist with real subtlety.
Also included are Brendan Behan’s The Auld Triangle (most notably covered by The Pogues, of course, but also by other artists under the title The Royal Canal); Sally, My Dear, usually associated with Pete Seeger; Lazy John, set to new music by Boldt, and two gospel numbers in The Welcome Table and Leaning on the Everlasting Arms. Written by Anthony J. Showalter and Elisha A. Hoffman, the latter has an interesting history. Originally published 138 years ago, it has been covered by a plethora of country artists from George Jones to Alan Jackson, received treatments from artists as diverse as Al Green and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, yet curiously has also featured heavily in the scores of two movies – Night of the Hunter and the excellent 2010 reboot of True Grit. And now Boldt adds his own sweet version to the catalogue of this storied hymn.
One of the many joys of this beautiful, unfeasibly mellow 33-minute album is that it is so uncluttered and totally organic sounding, delivered more like a collection of field recordings than a polished work. There are few warts, but where they do occur in the production, they remain, adding to the rusticity of the project. It is an intimate experience, enhanced by noninvasive birdsong and even thunder, captured by chance as the tape rolled while Boldt strummed and crooned on the porch of a friend’s Manitoba cabin.
The nine songs forming Broadside Ballads are performed mainly solo, but augmented here and there by Weger on mandolin; Sara Froese and Kelly Wallraff from Olenka & the Autumn Lovers on violin and cello respectively, and label-mates Kacy Anderson (backing vocals) and Clayton Linthicum (guitars, pedal steel, banjo and Fender Rhodes), also lead guitarist for The Deep Dark Woods.
These musicians are all very close friends of Boldt, and keeping it ‘in the family’ yet further the lush sleeve design is the work of his brother, Jeff. An Alphonse Mucha-style image of a woman in a broad-brimmed hat and billowing dress is carrying a basket of blooms, encircled by flowers, arced over and underneath by the artist and title in an art nouveau font. It makes for a pastoral, retro image reminiscent of the famous poster designs of Rick Griffin or Bob Masse, serving to add to the charm of this truly gorgeous record.
Rather than this act as a solo album per se, however, I’d like to suggest to Boldt that – à la The Unthanks’ Diversions releases, perhaps – it might be the first of an occasional series, away from his main gig, in which he could indulge his passion for the music of the past that plays such an important role in shaping his own. I know what’s in Boldt’s record collection, you see, so can guarantee there would be plenty of mouthwatering covers in store.
Review by: David Morrison
Released 9th October 2015 via Big White Cloud Records
Order it via Bandcamp: ryanboldt.bandcamp.com