Let’s get the obligatory facts out of the way. Debbie Davies spent three years playing in the band of Albert Collins. She also played in Maggie Mayall and the Cadillacs, an all-female blues band led by John Mayall’s wife. And she spent some time as the lead guitarist for Fingers Taylor and the Ladyfingers Revue. Since 1993, she has released eleven albums under her own name, and established a reputation as one of the most solid blues guitarists and vocalists on the touring circuit.
Debbie Davies' After The Fall
After The Fall is Davies' new record, and you don’t need to know any of the facts just cited to enjoy it. All you have to do is be willing to listen, and to have your ears open for an enjoyable romp through a bunch of well-written, enthusiastically performed cuts in a variety of blues styles. Leading a band that includes her longtime drummer and songwriting collaborator Don Castagno, bassists Matt Lindsey or Scott Hornick, Hammond B3 legend Bruce Katz, and rhythm guitarist Dave Gross, Davies simply pours her heart and soul into the music.
Castagno co-wrote “Don’t Put the Blame,” a snarling kiss-off song that opens the record with a pounding groove (which is actually fueled by a different drummer, Michael Bram, and a different keyboardist, Jeremy Baum). Davies has no sympathy for the man who is leaving her, and in fact is primarily concerned that he takes all the credit for his actions. Davies sings the song straight-forwardly, not wringing any unearned emotion out of the direct lyrics. She is proud of her actions, and the sound of the song is almost celebratory.
True Blue Fool
“The Fall,” co-written by Davies and Castagno, is built on a nasty guitar lick that, with slight variations, serves as Davies’ vocal melody. “If you think you can’t fall, you ain’t thinkin’ at all.” The syncopated funk groove is fierce, and Davies plays tautly against it for her deliciously delirious two-chorus solo. “True Blue Fool” comes straight from the pen of Castagno. It plays with the arpeggiated minor-key blues tradition, though Davies doesn’t hit every one of the notes in traditional arpeggios, leaving more open space beneath her richly delineated vocals. She has so much control of her voice, and she subtly plays with the rhythms and extremely light melisma to bend the sweet melody to her own whims.
Another Castagno co-write follows, “Done Sold Everything,” a basic Chicago shuffle which allows Davies to let her Telecaster shine the way her one-time employer Collins might have done. The song itself is a funny and sad tale of seeking financial help from every corner. It’s telling, however, that despite her statement of selling “everything that wasn’t nailed down to the floor,” she very carefully states that she “even sold a guitar,” not all of her guitars. Some things are unimaginable even in fantasy. Stepping outside of the blues, Davies offers her own song, “Little Broken Wing,” which features some intriguing guitar figures and a beautifully enticing chord sequence which allows her to send streams of melodic notes on her solo. Too bad the lyrics are a bit trite.
Remembering Robin Rogers
“All Of My Forgiveness” is a Castagno-penned showcase for Davies’ vocal skills. The rhythm track seems built on the “Black Magic Woman” template, but Davies’ sounds so firm in her vocal convictions, so true to her ability to give only a short time frame for forgiveness of male indiscretion, that the model is quickly forgotten. And her solo, though short, stings straight and true. “Goin’ To A Gaggle” is a Davies original steeped in New Orleans funk that’s as much fun as anything on the record. It’s a part of the new tradition of blues artists name-checking their peers in songs written about the experience of playing on a blues cruise (see Rick Estrin’s “(I Met Her on the) Blues Cruise” for a recent example). For Davies, the experience is clearly one of joy and pleasure, and she and the band (with Katz playing piano) have a blast. “I’ll Feel Much Better When You Cry” is in the Texas blues tradition, with lots of single-note guitar explosions and Davies big-throated vocal explosions proving she can shout as well as hold back.
The next two songs pay tribute to the late great Robin Rogers, who was a good friend of Davies before she passed away a couple years ago. “Down Home Girl,” written by Davies and Castagno, is a love-letter to the person and the music. “She brings joy and sweetness to the world,” Davies sings with conviction and tenderness. This is not a sad song by any means. “It’s people like that who teach us how to live.” That’s what Davies wants us to feel, some small amount of the connection she had with Rogers. This is followed by the raucous instrumental “R.R. Boogie,” which pretty much has to stand for Robin Rogers. It is recommended that you clear plenty of space to dance to this one, because it’s pretty much impossible to sit still through it.
The album ends with an old-fashioned pop song structure that you’d expect to find on a Peggy Lee record, but it’s called “Google Me Baby,” so you know Castagno is having a laugh. It’s a sweet love story in which, after a first date in person, so much more is learned on the Internet. Davies holds back a lot on guitar here, but she has a blast singing in the old style. She could probably do a pretty good jazz vocals record if she felt like it.
Steve's Bottom Line
Whether you’ve been along for the whole ride of Davies career, or just recently realized she’s one heck of a talent, After The Fall is chock full of entertainment value. With vocal and guitar chops to spare, and the intelligence and taste to use them in service of the song, Debbie Davies makes blues as pure and delightful as anybody in the biz these days. (MC Records, released July 17, 2012)
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