Rave Reviews…

April 14, 2009

THE COAST (Halifax)
Royal Wood – The Lost and Found EP (Dead Daisy)
by Sean Flinn

On Royal Wood’s fourth release, the current of chamber pop that wended its way through his previous music has broadened. It’s no longer just a motif. This feels less like experimentation than a new ethos. Along with his romantic piano playing and deep, resonant vocal tones, Wood is joined by a string section (Kevin Fox, cello, Johann Lotter, viola, Chris Church and Sandy Baron, violin). The ensemble enriches from within, rather than making cursory, quick entrances and exits into arrangements. Wood’s songs have always made room for complexity and counterpoint in mood and melody. “Wish to Paint” and “Poor Little World” fully realize this approach.

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Royal Wood – The Lost and Found EP (Dead Daisy)

Effortless; a term thrown around all too often in music reviews. The overused descriptor nestles up nicely beside sentiments like beautiful, epic, soaring, hazy, and “I liked their earlier stuff better” and when it comes to classic chamber pop tracks it seems to be a pre-requisite.

When you hear the perfect combination of velvety vocals, smooth melodies and cinematic soundscapes, it’s far too easy to talk about how weightless and effortless the sound feels. The truth is those songs are the hardest songs to mime and the effort needed to perfect the sound is incredible. When used correctly, strings and piano are terrific accents but for the most part come off as (at best) unnecessary or (at worst) pretentious when artists try to force importance to their melodrama.

The more you listen to Toronto singer Royal Wood, the more you start to appreciate his ability to handle paino and string filled arrangements that play out as simple, honest expressions. On his new stop gap EP – The Lost and Found EP – the darkness and stark emotions he delivers are hidden underneath ear grabbing tones, and the density of the effort vanishes instantly. Whether he strips away everything except his voice and a piano line (on the touching ballad, All of My Life) or explore bolder arrangements (like the string laden opener Don’t Fall Apart or Thinking About), Wood never sacrifices his sincerity.

Finding your musical stride is incredibly tough, but almost impossible when you are trying to strike an original voice amongst some of the talented chamber pop successes Canada has to offer. Over the course of his career, Woods has improved his song writing and it needs to be said; Royal has moved away from the obvious comparisons to greats like Sexsmith and Wainright and now exists as one of their peers.

Royal Wood – The Lost and Found EP (Dead Daisy)

Until I actually downloaded Royal Wood’s A Good Enough Day, I hadn’t realized just how many of its songs I already knew, but just never knew they were played by Toronto’s very own answer to M. Ward. Multi-instrumentalist Wood has compiled an EP of material to bridge the gap between 2007’s A Good Enough Day and its follow-up. The Lost And Found EP contains more of Wood’s finely crafted piano-led melodies, adding intricate string arrangements to his traditional song craft.

Wood connects with his audience on a deeply emotional level, and reminds me very much of another young, Canadian songwriter–Rufus Wainwright–in his authentic voice and dedication to the craft of chamber pop. Like Wainwright, Wood’s arrangement don’t sacrifice substance over style, and vice versa. At the heart of the matter, his choices come from an intuition to best serve the song. If that means fleshing it out with strings and brass, then so be it; if the song calls for a more muted presentation, then the orchestral elements are stripped back. It’s this deliberate nature in his songwriting that makes any collection of songs he writes so listenable and enjoyable.

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