Donovan Woods’ new album is a study in contrasts, as one would expect from its name: Both Ways.

“I saw that phrase in the title of a book and I thought, ‘That means something to me and I don't know what it is,’” Woods says. “That's my whole guiding principle while writing. When a string of words resonates, I just dig in the hole and try to figure it out. But what started the idea was people telling me, ‘You can't have it both ways.’ Or, ‘You can't have a record full of thoughtful lyrics that also gets played on the radio. You can't have those things both ways.’ This is just me trying to have both.”

That push-and-pull, especially in relationships, has long been Woods’ stock in trade. As the lead track of Both Ways , “Good Lover” unfolds with acoustic instruments and Woods’ quietly compelling delivery -- not what a listener might expect from the title alone. That masterful perspective has led to nominations for the Polaris Prize and the Juno Awards. In addition, his single “What Kind of Love Is That?” climbed to No. 1 on the CBC Top 20 Chart, while his catalog has accrued nearly 45 million streams.

Woods is also a notable songwriter in Nashville with credits by Billy Currington, Charles Kelley, Tim McGraw and Charlie Worsham. NPR Music stated, "There are very few writers who can make you laugh and break your heart in the same song.” No Depression noted that Woods’ style is “as fresh and captivating as any out there.”

In Both Ways , Woods shows the rare ability to distill complicated situations and emotions into songs that are intriguing and relatable. After observing a wedding party setting up in a Michigan hotel, he felt inspired to write “Another Way,” detailing an insecure groom’s second marriage. “Burn That Bridge” and “Truck Full of Money” cast unexpected shadows on finding and losing love.

While composing “Our Friend Bobby,” he’d been thinking about an older kid he knew in his childhood who had been killed in a suspicious car crash. While other people in his circle dismissed the death as inevitable, Woods stepped back for a wider viewpoint. (One lyric says, “Drink one for our friend Bobby / Open them gates and let him in / on accident, on purpose, darling / those were pretty much the same to him.”) Woods wrote the song during the time he was making the album in Toronto with his touring band and producer James Bunton. They recorded “Our Friend Bobby” just one day after it was written.


Perhaps the most beautiful song on Both Ways is “ I Ain't Ever Loved No One ,” a duet with Rose Cousins. The song captures that moment of bringing someone home to meet the family, using it as a backdrop to the anxieties of falling in love. True to the album title, a listener could either imagine a happily-ever-after ending or hear it as an ode to the one that got away. In most cases, Woods prefers to leave lyrics open to interpretation.

“The writing I always liked is about things that are indicative of a world but not the entire world. They lead you into the room and then let you fill in the details. One detail that makes you go, ‘OK, I feel like I understand.’ As long as you find that one detail, that's the key. That's the one you stick with and the rest is up to people's imagination,” he says.

As Both Ways progresses, radio-friendly songs like “I Live a Little Lie” and “Easy Street” employ a full-band sound to flesh out the sonic landscape. A number of the songs are guitar-driven, yet they stop short of full-blown rock ‘n’ roll. With his typically droll sense of humor, Woods notes, “I know that nobody likes rock music anymore. I don't even really like it anymore.” But he says the more aggressive moments on Both Ways are inspired by camaraderie in the studio and on tour, as well as the pop and R&B music he heard growing up in Sarnia, Ontario, where he could pick up the radio stations out of Detroit.

“I still want to make things that the band can play and have those moments of connection on stage,” he says. “We get to be with each other and make loud music that sounds fantastic, while making sure that the writing is still there and melodically good. It's fun to crank it up a little bit. There were moments of that in the studio, but it still felt like we were making one of my records. You have to have an eye on the show and remember that you have to go out and play the music you’re making. You want the show to have peaks and valleys.”

That duality is displayed on back-to-back tracks like the rumbling “I Don’t Belong to You” and the somber “Read About Memory.” Meanwhile, “Great Escape” offers a glimpse of a songwriter’s mind when he realizes he’s the only one taking a romantic relationship seriously. The larger message, though, is of a man who simply doesn’t want to feel used. As he sings, “Anyone who wants me to write some song about them / the only problem is by the time I get inspired, it’s a sad song / and that’s not want they want.”

Both Ways concludes with “Next Year,” one of five songs on the album he co-wrote in Nashville, where he has a publishing deal with Warner/Chappell Music. The poignant narrative follows a boy through adolescence and adulthood, where hopes and dreams are in a race against time. While the lyrics are drawn from Woods’ own life, the experiences are universal.

Asked if he writes differently for himself than he does for other artists, Woods replies, “I used to think that there was a difference. I know now there's no difference. You just try to write the best thing. Everything I wrote where I said, ‘This is mine and I’m going to put it out’ – every song like that gets recorded by somebody else. I know now that I just try and write a song that I would want to do.”


01 Good Lover
02 Another Way
03 Burn That Bridge
04 Truck Full Of Money
05 Our Friend Bobby
06 I Ain’t Ever Loved No One
07 I Live a Little Lie
08 Easy Street
09 I Don’t Belong To You
10 Read About Memory
11 Great Escape
12 Next Year