I am often proud that despite the glut of music that is released each week and the majority of it “hits” by artists under 30 that there are some who still believe in the sincere world-weary yet, optimistic song that seethes with reality. And sometimes these artists break through with their perfectly aimed musical dart.
Steve Earle, John Hiatt, Bonnie Riatt, Emmylou Harris, John Prine, the late Townes Van Zandt, Patty Griffin, and Nanci Griffith among hundreds of others who record and perform to respectably sized audiences who don’t reach for that gold top 25 ring. Maybe it's because they understand that sometimes that ring only glistens for a short while. They don't want their message to be the same rehashed monotonous cliché-ridden drone of candy-coated commercial big label music. Whew…I didn’t think I would get that all out without injecting a foul word -- but I did.
One of these artists who takes a modicum of musical coal and squeezes it hard enough to produce some diamonds is the acclaimed singer-songwriter Davey O who has supported many top tier artists throughout his career. His new ten-song collection “…a bright horizon line,” is a continuation of this concise singer-songwriter’s testament of absorbing story songs.
“The Easy Work,” kicks off the album with some standard beautiful acoustic guitar work accompanied with mandolin and Davey O’s rich Buddy Miller-style vocal. Davey doesn’t sound like Buddy, he just sings in the same deep, raw and authentic style. This man probably lived everything he sings about. His skin is not soft like some accountant or bookkeeper. It’s baseball glove worn, calloused and thick. The strength doesn’t come from pumping iron but muscle that comes from hard work and experience. What plays a role in enriching these songs, even more, is the Tracy Grammer harmony vocal that is like the sprinkles on a vanilla ice cream cone. Once you do something like that it's no longer just vanilla it's a treat.
Davey is not from the South, or mid-west he’s from Buffalo, NY.
Yet, his vocals and performance are infused with competent Americana and well, if the majority of The Band and Gordon Lightfoot can come from Canada and produce the masterpieces of Americana they did – then there is plenty of room for Davey O.
There is, so far, no showboating or rip-roaring soloing. The performance is comprised of dignified and memorable melodies, convincing lyrics and everything is fused into quite a distinctive style. “In Its Own Time,” continues to use mandolin and fiddle (Eric Lee), and background vocals – all crafted as carefully and sensitively as a Gordon Lightfoot folk-song from the 70’s. Davey doesn’t always sing in that gruff Buddy Miller manner either – on this track he’s in a little higher register and he pushes the envelope. But that higher tone lends the sincerity this song requires.
“For Them,” is a gentle acoustic guitar driven folk song about singing a song “just for them…” and it’s a clever little-lighthearted tune that would be ideal for even children in a music class to perform. Both Joni Mitchell (“The Circle Game”) and Gordon Lightfoot have written these types of songs in the past that have endeared them to audiences of all ages.
This album was recorded in Massachusetts -- a northern state that apparently had no effect on the musicians’ ability to find their own sanctuary in the tradition of Americana-Roots – which in my estimation has stretched out worldwide already. There are Italians, Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians and people from Spain who record exceptional Americana now it’s startling. They have learned the nuances and they have produced enriching songs that could be easily added to our history of Roots music. Like jazz, blues, and rock -- that’s what makes this music glorious, isn’t it?
Davey’s “OK” is relatively simple, with warm lyrics. With this song, he is trying to find strength – and in the tradition of say, The Beatles’ “Martha My Dear,” which is not about a girl named Martha but Paul McCartney’s sheepdog. Davey O is singing about the loss of his cat. But before you snicker, listen. It is done so well…it could easily be applied to something as a “lame” as a romantic relationship. (Sarcasm intended). I prefer the feline. People do have close relationships with their pets and many even become part of the family. So why not a sad song about the passing of a cat? VA = the beautiful Matt Nakoa piano frames the entire piece respectfully and adds the necessary seriousness to make the song poignant. VA = value added – the piano supports the singer who sings with a lot of authenticity. He must have loved his little friend and that’s commendable.
Pat Wictor provides a pleasant dobro to “Nothing Could Go Wrong,” and Tracy Grammer returns on backing vocals. This lyric is about wishing you were younger again. Haven’t we all? As usual, it takes a singer-songwriter with depth and perception to pen a reflective tune like this which one way or another will affect everyone eventually in their life. In photos, Davey O appears a little cowboyish but he’s more than that because these songs are not hokey. They are not “hat” songs or pick-up truck songs, beer guzzling odes or raising hell on Saturday epics. These are snippets of real life, laid out bare like a perfect table place setting. Wictor’s dobro returns to “My Parade,” and still, the Davey O presentation is stripped down, with very little flash and trimmings. It has a delicacy to it, and unfolds wonderful songwriting, well-thought out, and convincing tales told simply. I don’t even miss the fact that it lacks drums and percussion. Sometimes you want beef stroganoff and sometimes a burger with onions. This is something that satisfies with ease. Pass the ketchup.
Track 9 is the well-articulated masterpiece of this collection.
The majority of the tunes all had their redeeming value but this one stuck in my brain like a pitchfork. “To Buffalo,” is just a song about not being able to wait to get off the road and return home. Now Buffalo in winter is a cold and snowy place – but, I guess if you were brought up there it must have pieces of good memory that remain with the child. Davey O’s child surfaces here as he sings the song with genuine happiness and sadness simultaneously. He knows that the business he is in will take him away from home again but, he will always have this to fall back on. James Maddock had a similar great tune a few years ago “My Old Neighborhood,” (on YouTube) which was in England. Maddock has been in America for many years but he returns to his childhood friends and neighbors the same as Davey O does here.
The final track is a cover of the old Australian band Crowded House. A splendid song by Neil Finn – “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” with some excellent Eric Lee mandolin. Stripped down and live – the song has vibrancy even in its Americana interpretation. The fact that a cover was included is also commendable since it shows the artistry of Davey O and how he adds his own luster to someone else’s tune. Job well done.
The 44-minute album was produced by Neale Eckstein (an artist and songwriter in his own right – check out his multi-artist album Click) and Davey O. The collection was mastered by Gene Paul at G&J Audio in…UNION CITY, NJ? My old hometown where I grew up? Are you kidding? Did Pastore’s Music (32nd Street) supply any of the other additional instruments like they used to for many famous bands and artists performing in NY throughout the 60’s and 70’s? Nice coincidence.
Davey O plays 6 and 12 string acoustic guitar, harmonica, electric guitar, bass and sings all the songs. The other musician contributions were listed separately in the copy. The CD package is a beautiful full-color six panels fold out designed and photographed by Michelle Perkins with the cover photo by Davey O himself probably shot from the dashboard of his car as he drove down a highway. Hey, Davey, the title of the album sounds like a song waiting to be written: “…a bright horizon line.” Good song about your travels and what lies over that horizon. Ah...it's just a thought.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this review/commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of No Depression. All photography is owned by the respective photographers and is their copyrighted image; credited where photographer’s name was known & being used here solely as a reference and will be removed on request. YouTube images are standard YouTube license.
John Apice / No Depression / June 2017