We are living in turbulent times. There’s the war in Ukraine, the ongoing climate crisis, the fight for women’s rights, the continued concern about COVID-19, the struggle for Indigenous rights and so many more issues. To quote from Anne Murray’s 1983 hit song, what we need right now is “A Little Good News.” Or at least some positive news. To that end, we only have to listen to the Durham County Poets’ new album, Out Of The Woods.
“That was the one direction,” said group lead singer Kevin Harvey. “We just wanted to have something upbeat and optimistic.”
Kevin, along with guitarists David Whyte and Neil Elsmore, supplied the lyrics while the other members, bassist Carl Rufh and drummer Rob Couture, contributed to the music or arrangements. The catalyst for the album came from Neil who came up with the phrase “out of the woods.”
“I said, ‘I love that metaphor,’” said Kevin. “Then it reminded me of my mother, who was very positive. She’d say, ‘Stop your whining and bellyaching. It’s going to get better.’ So I turned the title into a kind of personal story about my mum.”
Sonically Kevin was looking for an old-school R&B sound for the album.
“I didn’t want it to be a completely R&B album,” he admitted. “I don’t like anything to be a ‘completely’ album. Whatever direction we take, we go where we feel like going, trying to have different colours and contrasts. I love trying to keep some of the acoustic feel in there and the gospel and the blues.”
The Durham County Poets beginnings can be traced back to a duo Kevin and Neil formed in the Chateauguay region of Quebec called The Boll Weevil Acoustic Band. After getting married and moving to Dewittville, Kevin met Carl and David in 2011.
“I had this idea of a band of songwriters,” he explained. “I said, ‘I’ve got these two songs,’ thinking that was my big catalogue, Neil had these three songs, and David had probably 100 songs! So we said, ‘Let’s do an album.’”
The result was Where The River Flows.
“It’s not the best recording but you can hear the room sound. But it was the birth of the band,” Kevin said.
What followed were the albums Chikkaboodah Stew, Grimshaw Road and Hand Me Down Blues, which was nominated for a Juno Award for Blues Album of the Year and garnered Kevin a CFMA nomination for Traditional Singer of the Year. Recording Out Of The Woods was no easy task for the band. They got a recording grant and were all set to work again with producer Bill Garrett and engineer Rob Heaney, who were part of the previous album, when Rob died suddenly of a heart attack.
“He recorded everybody. He’s one of the best recording engineers in Montreal,” Kevin said. “We thought, ‘How are we going to finish the project?’ It was the pandemic, and you couldn’t barely get together to rehearse. We were lucky to get one rehearsal every other month. So it was pretty slow slugging.”
In the end, it took about a year and a half to put Out Of The Woods together. To celebrate the release of the album the Durham County Poets have been touring with a horn section to fully represent the sound of the disc.
Our first launch we had 11 people on the stage,” Kevin said. “We had the horn players, a backup singer and a harmonica player. It was a full house, that’s for sure. David is our senior member in the group. He’s been playing since the 60s, and he’s said a couple of times now, ‘That was the best I’ve ever done in my life!’ I said, ‘Dave, that’s the third time you’ve said that in three months!’ So he seems to be enjoying it. It’s just a lot of fun.”
For more information on Out Of The Woods and the Durham County Poets, go to durhamcountypoets.com.