The Woodshedders’ “O Dig”

 Photo from band website

If the title of The Woodshedders’ new album “O Dig” is a command, I have no problem obeying. The album boasts a truly eclectic fusion of numerous styles and stories, and it’s full of surprises. The Woodshedders have got the dances covered with two-steps, waltzes, swing, and hip-hop. They’ve got plenty of songs about animals, such as badgers, chickens, crickets, birds foxes, and more chickens. Oh, and there’s quite a bit of social commentary, with references to Shakespeare, Bob Dylan, John Brown, Jimmy Carter, and Abe Lincoln. Then there’s the music itself, which encompasses a host of different styles such as blues, country, folk, and…rap? Indeed.

A moderate tempo two-step, “Badger Blood” is the opening track and features warm vocals — courtesy of guests Melissa Wright, Aimee Curl, and Morgan Morrison, in addition to Dwayne, Ryan, and Dave of The Woodshedders — and the dobro playing of Gaven Largent. Fiddle is also prominent on this tune, and Dave Van Deventer’s playing is full of double-stops. The second track, “Narwhal,” is a highlight on the album. The Woodshedders always seem to have one song that really knocks all the others out of the water so to speak, and this is it on “O Dig.” A Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club of France-inspired instrumental, the supreme abilities of Dave on fiddle and Dwayne on guitar are clearly evidenced as they play the dizzying melody. It’s a tightly wound, rapid-tempo tune, and every swift note is clear and full of passion. Playing that fast is impressive, period, but especially so when it’s done with such tremendous musicality. Next is “Slipping Through,” quite a change in pace. I didn’t know these guys and gals do reggae, but apparently they do now. A laid-back but steady beat by Jesse on drums grounds the song, played with a distinctly reggae rhythm. Guitar and upright bass also contribute to the groove of the song, which still retains swing and country roots. After that comes “Viper James,” another highlight on the album with Dwayne’s guitar virtuosity on full display. A rambunctious song about an outlaw, the narrative is something like a modern, grown-up, slightly altered version of the children’s classic “Little Rabbit Foo Foo.” Intrigued? You should be.

Gaven Largent plays on only two songs on the album, and “Four Winds” is the second. It’s a real hoedown of a song, and forget caffeine — if you need to get anything done just put “Four Winds” on. There are a few slower songs on “O Dig,” however, “Virginia’s Fair Daughters” being one. A sweet country waltz, it almost has an old hymn-like quality to it — especially towards the end when Dwayne sings with only scattered guitar chords as accompaniment before Morgan and Aimee join back in on vocal harmonies. The Woodshedders don’t stay solemn for long, though. Immediately following “Virginia’s Fair Daughters” is the rockabilly-tinged “Sand Grain,” full of politics among whimsical lyrics. After that comes “Swallow’s Wings,” and when I mentioned that The Woodshedders play slower songs on “O Dig” in addition to the lively ones, I meant they play two: “Virginia’s Fine Daughters” is the first and “Swallow’s Wings” is the second. Morgan and Aimee sing lead on the latter, and their vocals are incredibly complimentary. Guitar keeps the rhythm along with the drums while fiddle decorates the music with trills here and there, but the two women’s vocals create most of the music in the song.

Last is “Chicken to Change,” and if you were wondering what song the band raps on, this is it. In addition to liking the song, I also admire the message. Dwayne recites how “we got a mountain to move, get your grain of sand.” There are also some lines about people wanting to buy the “latest, greatest, future piece of trash” and something about cucumbers in the hot sauce, but you’ll just have to listen to get the full gist of it yourself (listen or buy here). The album surprised me with its diversity, and while many of the songs require a deeper listen to get the full weight of the message, the reward is well worth the effort. I do think The Woodshedders left out one important thing, however: a warning label on the album stating “stimulant.”

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