Published Apr 04, 2018If you check your cynicism at the door and open your heart wide, Royal Wood will sweep you off your feet with his earnestly romantic Ever After the Farewell. Does that mean the Lakefield, ON folk-pop troubadour veers into schmaltz a little too often on this new LP? Sure. But that's just an occupational hazard for a songwriter so intent on doling out uplifting sweetness. And the tradeoff is more than worth it.
You may grow weary of Wood's Marcus Mumford meets Roy Orbison shtick on this LP's weaker first half (early track "Something About You," being the flat-out low point, with its doughy soft, bland percussion and guitar strums, and a chorus cloying enough to make Daniel Powter have a band day. But Ever After the Farewell's far richer and more eclectic back half will leave you thoroughly compelled, as the singer-songwriter stretches into new terrain.
"Nowhere to be Found," for instance, sports stripped-down instrumentation from the backing players, and lilting, Celtic-inflected singing from Wood on the verses. And when he hits the big broad chorus, and mixes in a bit of classic Billy Joel grandeur for good measure, you won't be able to resist a satisfied smile. Better still is "Cruel," an intimate, minimal track with guitar strings that squeal as Wood slides his fingers on the fret board, followed by a playful chorus that finds him and the rhythm section in a knot tight groove that evokes Bruce Springsteen's "Fire," meaning you'll be swaying to it upon your first listen. And "Farewell," is somehow both spare and also jangly strummed. Wood's selective holding of key notes and lyrics as he sings that song help him evoke heartache more effectively than the brazenly go-for-broke numbers peppered throughout his back catalogue.
By both playing to his established strengths and delving into new eclecticism, Wood succeeds far more often on Ever After the Farewell than its comparatively blander, same-y and more polished predecessor Ghost Light (an LP that I enjoyed at the time, but that pales in comparison). And while it may take a beat for jaded listeners to get on his cheery wavelength, there are certainly worse things than being wooed by Wood's tenaciously sweet, refreshingly wholesome style. (Outside)