Given that Donovan Woods’s website is BestSongWriterEver.com, we asked the Sarnia-born balladeer and charismatic tweet-maker to break down the songs in contention for the Juno for the year’s top single.
Inner Ninja, a hopeful and playful rap about stealth strength and inner peace, from Nova Scotia’s Classified (aka Luke Boyd), featuring the Fredericton-bred singer David Myles.
“I admit I wasn’t familiar with David Myles. And the first time I heard this song I was thinking, ‘Who is this geography teacher singing the hook?’ But now I know he’s got a laidback vibe, and that’s what he’s doing in the hook. Classified is just fun to listen to – it’s a joy to hear him rap. Ninety per cent of my musical enjoyment is hearing people say things in a fun way. There’s a 6/8 beat, which rappers tend to sound really good over. It gives it a real rolling, tumbling flow.”
Reflektor, a thoughtful, disco-tinged rocker from Win Butler and the serious Montreal troupe Arcade Fire.
“I think the radio edit is five minutes long, so it’s crazy that radio even plays it.
I like Arcade Fire, but with this one I can’t get a hold of it for some reason. It’s obviously danceable and fun – that little piano line at the end is great. But I am so tired of Win Butler’s trapped-in-a-maze/trapped-in-a-prism style of lyrics. I don’t know how many times that guy can get trapped in a prism. Maybe it’s just me. I’m a dad, and I’m getting old, but I hear his lyrics now and think, ‘How do I apply this to my life?’”
It’s a Beautiful Day, a mid-air heel-click of a rebound tune co-written and sung by the affable B.C. crooner Michael Bublé.
“First of all, this song is predicated on a lie. Nobody’s breaking up with Michael Bublé, who is perfect in every way. As for his music, I love I’m Your Man Bublé and I love Feeling Good Bublé. I love his hair. I love everything about him. But this song just seems like it’s written to be licensed, like U2’s Beautiful Day, which has the vague sentiment of ‘everything is going to be great.’ In the chorus of Bublé’s It’s a Beautiful Day, they don’t mention anything about the breakup until the last line. The chorus stands alone as a description of a great day. To me, this is a song they hope gets licensed like crazy.”
What I Wouldn’t Do, a giant tune about loyalty from Toronto’s big-voiced Serena Ryder.
“It’s a really big song, but there’s not really much to it – there’s not much instrumentation. It has a great melody, and they’re letting the melody do all the heavy lifting. It never goes to the one [beat] in the whole verse, which gives it a weird urgency. It makes you desperate to get to the chorus, which is huge and beautifully melodic, and at the same time doesn’t have a lot of instrumentation again. That makes it a lot of fun to listen to. The bridge too winds up really tight. This is my favourite one of the five nominated songs to listen to, for sure.”
Closer, the catchy-as-all-get-out pop tune from the Calgary-born identical twins Tegan and Sara.
“It sounds to me that Tegan and Sara really liked the Robyn song Call Your Girlfriend and made their own song that pushes like that one pushes. Like some of the other nominated songs, with the way it’s produced and the way it’s written, there’s a ruthless efficiency to it. There’s no turnaround – they just leap into the pre-chorus and then into the chorus and then it’s straight back into the verse. It’s a lot of fun to listen to. I actually saw one of either Tegan or Sara at a bar in Nashville recently. I wanted to introduce myself and say, ‘Hey, I think you’re awesome,’ but I didn’t know which one she was. It occurred to me that it was a good remedy for fame. You can’t go up to one of them and say, ‘Hello, Tegan or Sara,’ so I just didn’t say anything.”
Donovan Woods’s Don’t Get Too Grand is nominated for roots/traditional album of the year.
This interview has been condensed and edited.