Royal Wood: regally refined

Todd
Todd MacLean
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Royal Wood is an interesting fellow, in many ways, it seems.

For instance, the Canadian singer-songwriter, who grew up on a farm in Peterborough, Ont., has received high critical acclaim for his music, has an adoring fan base, was named iTunes Songwriter of the Year and has been nominated at the Junos for awards like songwriter of the year and adult alternative album of the year.

However, I would venture to say that the majority of Canadian music fans still probably wouldn’t be able to tell you a whole lot about him or his music.

And to make it more interesting, it would seem that there is a dominating “shrouded in mystery” part of Wood’s personality that is most likely quite content with this reality.

In any case, to give you a little more general information on the subject of this week’s column, for those of you who may not know, Wood is a Canadian adult alternative pop singer-songwriter whose brand of classic pop has been compared to artists such as Ron Sexsmith, Rufus Wainright and Hawksley Workman.

To date, Wood has released seven studio recordings, with his latest album, The Burning Bright, released on March 18. The album’s lead single, Forever and Ever, was an instant Top 40 Hit in Canada, and Wood is now on tour in promotion of the new release, which brought him to a Charlottetown stop last weekend.

There was not an empty seat to be found in the house last Friday night at 8 p.m. at The Mack, as the necktie-and-vest-clad gentleman with slicked-back hair made his way out on stage with his acoustic guitar, backed up by a three-piece accompanying band of drums, guitar and bass.

As he proceeded into his first song of the night, Promises, he and his band stood cloaked in shadows, as overhead lights and rear-lighting poles of industrial-themed floodlights bathed the stage in a darkened wash.

It was a sound fuelled with impeccable in-the-pocket drums by Mark Mariash, solid bass playing and harmonies by Steve Zsirai and supportive vocals and perfectly decorative guitar work (on a shining jangly Rickenbacker) by Wood’s faithful producer Dean Drouillard. And from that powerful opening onward, Wood and his band continued to musically mesmerize their audience.

Not Giving Up followed as the next song, the stand-out single from Wood’s previous album, 2012’s We Were Born to Glory, as Wood hopped on the keys and allowed his piano prowess to fill out the tones of this early crowd favourite.

Audience singing along was clearly taking place all around the room from the get-go, as Wood invited us to indulge in this even more in the fourth number of the night, which was the lead-off single of The Burning Bright, Forever and Ever.

Some other interesting things about Wood? His songwriting tactics — as he writes virtually all of his material in either of two locations: Ireland and California. But he even wrote a tune for this latest record without an instrument in his hands, while sitting in an airport lounge. And that song (I’m Afraid) that began in a stripped down way with him solo at the piano presented one of the best chances of the night to fully enjoy his smooth and emotive voice.

One other interesting thing about Wood is that he has just recently ended a marriage with Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah Slean — and it takes a new song like I Wish You Well (a purely beautiful farewell song that was a highlight of the second half) to catch glimpses of the depth at which he feels and enthuses this into his music.

The show ebbed and flowed from being a glowing and powerfully-propelled rock concert in The Mack to a subdued and pristinely-delivered intimate performance. A perfect example of this latter description was in Wood’s first encore, as he performed Irish Road on a ukulele, completely unplugged. Surely a pin-drop could have been heard, as the crowd seemingly did not want to leave the warm collective embrace of that moment.

But, growing to a flourishing finale, Wood and his band ended with one finale encore of intense rock orchestration with Acting Crazy.

For those of you who missed the show and who’d like to catch Wood live in concert on this summer’s tour, you are in luck, as he will be performing on P.E.I. once again this year at the Indian River Festival on Aug. 24, 7:30 p.m. Visit http://www.royalwood.ca/shows/ to book tickets and for more information.

Next week: I’ll tell you about Elder Sister Plum & The Sun Harmonic at Marc’s Lounge tomorrow night.

Todd MacLean is a local freelance writer and musician. If you have a comment or suggestion for a review, you can get in touch with him at tmaclean@theguardian.pe.ca or at 626-1242. But he won’t be offended if you don’t.

Todd’s weekend picks

1. Weekend shows at the Trailside – Trailside Café, Mount Stewart. Featuring Billy MacInnis’ CD launch today, Ten Strings and a Goat Skin tomorrow and David Francey on Sunday. Shows begin at 8 p.m. with dinner seating at 6:30 p.m.

2. Weekend shows at Harmony House – Harmony House Theatre, Hunter River. Featuring Matt Minglewood today and Russell deCarle of Prairie Oyster tomorrow, with both shows at 8 p.m.

3. The Sadies – Hunter’s Ale House, today at 10:30 p.m.

4. Elder Sister Plum and The Sun Harmonic – Marc’s Lounge, tomorrow at 9 p.m.

5. A Joyful Sound Choir Performances – St. Mary’s Church, Souris, Sunday at 2:30 p.m. and Kirk of St. James, Charlottetown, Sunday at 7:30 p.m.

Organizations: Junos, The Mack, Harmony House Theatre Ale House The Sun

Geographic location: California, Peterborough, Charlottetown Canada Ireland Irish Road Indian River Mount Stewart Hunter River Mary

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