Not (only) one stone
by Guillaume Nicolas
by Magali Surcin
2 years after the release of their monumental album Mosaic, we were
wondering how Woven Hand would manage to outshine this amazing album
which made such an impression. Before listening to their new record for
the first time, we have mixed feelings: great excitement, but also,
somehow, fear of being disappointed. What if David Eugene Edwards, who
had us used to more and more impressive records, had to set slightly
lower standards, because the high quality of his previous album made it
difficult for him to reach that level again - let alone surpass it?
However, our fears subsided a few months ago, as we followed Woven Hand
as a duo (DEE and Ordy Garrison) on their American tour, during which
they played 2 new songs that literally blew our minds, namely,
“The Beautiful Axe” and “Kingdom of Ice”.
What's more, DEE admitted that he was very happy with the new album,
which he worked on and recorded in conditions very different from those
of the previous albums. Those were encouraging clues. And from the
first few seconds of their 4th album (aside from 2 excellent
side-projects albums written for the Ultima Vez dance company,
“Blush Music” and “Puur”, this is their fourth
album), our doubts vanish instantly, as Ten Stones opens with
“The Beautiful Axe”.
This song is amazingly rich, breathtakingly deep, and is downright to
be considered one of the greatest songs DEE has ever written. This is
an unbelievable opening, especially since it soon becomes obvious that
Woven Hand's sound has changed somewhat, as the production of this
album is very different from all of their previous releases. This album
has more of a “live” sound, clearly more electric than the
others, and for the first time on an album, you can fully appreciate
the band's energy and coherence as a collective (great credit is also
due to the immensely talented musicians who worked on the album:
drummer Ordy Garrison, bassist Pascal Humbert and the very creative
Belgian guitarist Peter Van Laerhoven). It's also a lot heavier and
darker, even though it does eventually turn out to be the band's most
After “The Beautiful Axe” comes the lovely
“Horsetail”, with a more acoustic sound, closer to what
they had got us used to.
The following song, “Not One Stone”, is probably the
greatest track on the album, and without a doubt, a masterpiece in
DEE's work. You can't describe it with mere words. Everything we love
about Woven Hand is there: power (listen to the end of the song: we'd
never heard Woven Hand, on any other album, sound so heavy and intense
-this is a real climax), emotion, exceptionally beautiful
songwriting, stunning vocals (DEE's voice gets impressively deeper and
deeper with each passing year, and with each album), and a
“live” production that perfectly suits the song -not only
one of the most powerful tracks on the album, but also, without a
doubt, one of the prospective highlights of the upcoming concerts at
the end of the year.
Next comes the splendid “Cohawkin Road”, which could fit
right in with the atmosphere and colours of the first album.
“Iron Feather” is another major highlight on Ten Stones.
Less heavy and dark, yet more melancholy, sadder. DEE sings with more
emotion than ever before on an album. It is quite simply sublime, and
reveals DEE under a somewhat different angle, as raw emotion seeps
through the songwriting and vocals.
The triptych that follows “Iron Feather” is probably one of
the most surprising moments ever heard on a Woven Hand album: 3 songs
radically different from anything Woven Hand have recorded since their
first album in 2002. Such a surprise may be a little bit unsettling at
first, but the songs soon fit right in with the rest of the album. It
begins with “White Knuckle Grip”. It's upbeat, nearly
festive, with lots of brass (a first for Woven Hand), and does prove
that DEE is a multi-faceted musician. On the next song, a cover of
Antonio Carlos Jobim's classic bossa-nova “Quiet Night of Quiet
Stars”, we get to hear DEE sing like a crooner for the first
time, and with great success. This is a big, beautiful surprise. Then,
the last song of the triptych, “Kicking Bird” quickly
(within 2 minutes) sends the listener into uncharted, yet fascinating
territories. As far as I can remember, I'd never heard Woven Hand play
so fast. Obviously, this one is to become yet another highlight of the
The next song is another high point on the record (after “The
Beautiful Axe”, “Not One Stone” and “Iron
Feather”): “Kingdom of Ice”, on which DEE plays his
beautiful 1885 banjola. We also heard that song a few months ago,
during their American tour as a duo. David's voice has never before
sounded so intense and exciting on a record: the song is not only
beautifully written, but DEE's vocals are truly phenomenal.
The album ends with the beautiful, pure “His Loyal Love”, co-written with Pascal Humbert.
In a nutshell: Ten Stones is without a doubt Woven Hand's best album to
date, the richest, deepest, heaviest, and a genuine
masterpiece. 4 of those songs are among the best the band has ever
written, but on top of that, DEE has stepped out of his comfort zone
and taken risks, exploring musical areas that were completely new to
him -both to his great credit and much to the fans' delight. The
production is simply wonderful, adding power, clarity and raw emotion
to the new songs. Moreover, it has to be pointed out that DEE's lyrics
are unquestionably the most beautiful and emotionally deep he's ever
written. They are intensely poetic and exceptionally spiritual.
As we wanted to find out more about this masterpiece, exciting from
beginning to end, we met DEE a few days after his stunning performance
at the Sédières festival in Clergoux, and asked him a few
questions about those extraordinary “Ten Stones”.
First of all, congratulations on your exceptional new album, Ten Stones. How do you feel about it now?
Thank you very much. I'm really happy to hear you love the album. I'm definitely very proud and satisfied with the new record.
Would you agree to call it a “concept album”, with so many
references to the native American culture? (“The Beautiful
Axe”, “Iron Feather”, “Kicking Bird”,
etc). These last few years, your attraction towards this culture has
become more and more obvious, through your lyrics but also on stage
-I'm thinking of the exceptional, epic version of “Down in Yon
Forest” you played in Bonn in October 2005, during which, after a
long vocal improvisation about the invasion and theft of their
territories, you concluded with a very strong sentence: “we're
all living on the Indian land”...
Yes, the native American culture has always been an essential part of
my life in Colorado. It had a strong impact on me and plays an
important part in my life, today more than ever. I actually think that
it's always been present, in different ways, in my music, from the
beginning until now. Throughout my career, the Indian culture has
played a major part in my music. It's extremely important to me, and
for many different reasons. However, you're right, this influence is
even more present on the new album Ten Stones, and in a much more
direct way. Of course, it had an essential impact on the album, without
One of the most powerful songs on the album is “Kicking
Bird”. Is it a reference to the eponymous native American chief?
(Kicking Bird was the name of a Kiowa chief)
This is a traditional native American song. It was sung by many
south-western Indian tribes. As far as I know, it never had a name, so
I thought of calling it “Kicking Bird”, in honour of the
Kiowa people, for whom I have immense respect.
You play the hurdy-gurdy on nearly all of your new songs. Is that your
new passion? We know you enjoy this instrument and have used it on your
albums for a long time (the hurdy-gurdy appeared on the credits of Low
Estate in 1997), but this time, it is one of the main instruments,
sometimes on the same level as the guitar or the piano. How did you
discover the instrument and how did you bring it out into your musical
The hurdy-gurdy is an exceptional instrument and I love it deeply. All
those who are familiar with my music also know that I've always loved
“droning sounds” in music, you know, those continuous
sounds that add a very particular atmosphere to the music. And without
a doubt, the hurdy-gurdy has the most beautiful continuous sound and
the most beautiful “drone” to my ears. It's a very special,
unique instrument, with a very particular sound, it's always moving,
and it touches me greatly. I love that sound and I use it as much as I
possibly can today with Woven Hand. I can't exactly remember the first
time I heard the hurdy-gurdy, but I'm nearly sure it must have been on
traditional Eastern European music, ou maybe even in some pieces from
traditional French music. I can't remember exactly.
The sound and production of Ten Stones are radically different from the
previous albums. They remind me a lot of your “live” sound,
powerful and rich. For the first time on a Woven Hand album, the whole
energy of the band as a collective can be felt. Can you tell us a bit
more about the process, conception and recording of the new album?
Incidentally, it's the first time in a long while that you haven't
worked with Robert Ferbrache in Denver, Colorado. Did you decide to
take a new direction and work with different methods, different people?
That's right, the recording process was very different with this album.
Nearly all the album was done in analog and “live”
recording in Daniel Smith's studio in Clarksboro, New Jersey, and we
eventually finalized some parts in Glade Park, Colorado. This is why
the album has so much of a human, “live” sound. We really
enjoyed ourselves, and the recording went very well. Our friend Emil
Nikolaisen, from Serena Maneesh, came from Norway to give us a hand,
and he played on many songs. We had a great time recording Ten Stones.
There really is a beautiful, new energy in the record.
On the new album, a lot of freedom was given to the other members of
the band -for instance, some of the songs were co-written with Pascal
(His Loyal Love) or Peter (Horsetail).
You know, I've always loved working with people I appreciate and admire, so these collaborations happened quite naturally.
Would you say Woven Hand is taking a new, “heavier”
direction with the new album? Ten Stones is definitely not as
atmospheric as Mosaic or Consider the Birds. You've always had an
intense, electric sound on stage, but the albums tended to sound more
intimate and acoustic. They had a heavy sound too, but in a different
way. This time, the sound is bigger than usual, with heavier guitars
and more powerful drums, etc.
With this album, we really wanted to lay emphasis on the band as a
united group, an entity, so we naturally worked as a team, with the
same attitude as on stage. Again, we recorded the album
“live”, all of us together, and the conditions were very
similar to those of our concerts. However, I don't think you could
actually call it a new, heavier direction.
There are a few surprises on the new album, with songs like White
Knuckle Grip, Kicking Bird, and especially Quiet Night of Quiet Stars.
Can you tell us a bit more about White Knuckle Grip?
It's a song that Daniel and myself had started writing a few years ago,
but we'd never had the time or the chance to polish and finish it. It
had been left hanging. And this time, we thought the moment was right
to bring it up again, work on it and record it. The whole band was
there, and there was so much energy in the studio while we were
recording Ten Stones, it was definitely the perfect moment to bring a
song like this one back to life. This song needs a very particular
energy, and we felt that this time, we had everything we needed to make
it work perfectly.
What about Quiet Night of Quiet Stars? How did you discover that song?
The first time I heard it, I was so surprised! It's the first time
you've sung in a crooner's voice...
It's actually an old traditional bossa-nova song by Antonio Carlos
Jobim. But the first time I was exposed to it, it was through Frank
Sinatra's duo with A.C. Jobim. I'm a great fan of both Frank Sinatra's
and Antonio Carlos Jobim's. So is Emil... and he is a fantastic
bossa-nova guitarist, so we thought it would be an excellent idea to
record our own version of this superb song.
Can you explain the album's somewhat mysterious title, Ten Stones?
The title is a bit difficult to explain. How can I say... In a way, I
see each song as a stone, and there are 10 songs on the record...
“and not one stone atop another will stand” (a quotation
from the extraordinary song Not One Stone). We're still in the register
of heaviness. But you know, it's still very difficult for me to explain
the title of my albums, or my lyrics, actually... It's complicated.
Earlier this year, you toured the US, as a duo with Ordy. You don't do
many American tours, as your situation over there is quite complicated.
I was fortunate enough to see you for most of the tour, and although
the venues were considerably smaller than in Europe, and not
particularly full, I had the feeling you really enjoyed playing those
concerts. Some of them, notably in Nashville, Knoxville, Asheville and
Chicago, were even very impressive. What is the main difference between
touring the US and touring Europe?
The main difference? It's extremely simple... 40 people on the one
hand, 800 on the other, that's the main reason, as you did notice. Our
situation in the US is unfortunately quite complicated. But musically,
it doesn't make a difference to me, as I always give my best,
regardless of the concert, country, city, venue, or size of the
audience. So musically speaking, I don't make a difference between
touring the US and touring Europe. But in terms of crowds, yes, the
difference is colossal.
Finally, I have a question of particular interest to our readers who
play music. You don't have to reveal any of your secrets in terms of
sound or technique, but you always play in open-tuning, a particularly
low tuning that gives such heavy, dark tonality to your guitar-playing
I'm always very surprised when people ask me about my guitar
“technique”, because if I play in open tuning, that's
precisely because I don't have a technique! (laughing) Seriously, I've
always played this way because I really can't play any other way, you
know, with standard tuning. So I've developed a very personal type of
guitar-playing, with a low tuning to fit my voice, but there is no
particular secret behind it, sincerely...