Brad Davis, |
I'm Not Gonna Let
My Blues Bring Me Down
In a sane and just world -- in other words, not the one in which 2003 finds us -- this would be a "commercial" record, and it would yield hits that we could hear whenever we turned the dial to a country station. That's not, by the way, a uselessly wistful, baseless or squishy notion. Hard as it may be to remember, and harder still to believe, in the early to mid-1980s, country radio was so wide open that you could hear everybody from the lovably eccentric, piano-pounding honkabilly Becky "Beckeroo" Hobbs to the driving, Cajun-drenched Jo-El Sonnier to the pensive, cerebral neo-bluegrass O'Kanes. That was a window open just long enough to be slammed, then nailed, then hermetically sealed, shut by the next generation of radio-programming brownshirts. The result is the goopy, blandly conformist dreck that pretends to be country music these days.
Of course, on the other side is an active, if not exactly thriving, alt. country, a.k.a. Americana, movement. If some of the performers within it are not exactly guilty of excessive talent, they can at least cop the plea that they're not like those other guys. Brad Davis, on the other hand, is a guitarist, singer and writer of sufficient gifts that he needs no alibis. I'm sure he could easily sell out if he wanted to. He's chosen, however, to remain true to his own muse, thus this appealing record.
Davis is steeped in roots genres, specifically folk, downhome blues, traditional country and -- most of all -- bluegrass, but he drops into it certain subtle pop and even jazz touches, so perfectly and organically integrated that these disparate sounds never seem ill at ease in each other's company. It takes self confidence, not to mention a truly original vision, to take on the Stanley Brothers chestnut "Rank Stranger" (credited here to "trad." but actually another of Al Brumley's many eerily trad.-sounding compositions). Nearly everybody else is resigned to doing the song -- albeit never quite as well -- the Stanley way, but Davis tweaks the melody, calls in the full-throated black-gospel singing of Kelly Knolf and transforms it into something as under-your-skin-and-into-your-soul affecting as the Stanleys's immortal reading has always been.
Mostly, though, these are originals, satisfyingly imagined, richly atmospheric tales set in rural landscapes. Davis's Southern Gothic sensibility has death -- usually violent death -- a lurking presence throughout. The effect is not the sort of fragile, threatened mortality that underlies a Son House or Dock Boggs or Ralph Stanley or Bob Dylan performance, yet it's the crossroads at midnight all the same. As Davis fashions an acoustic music that is one step back and two steps forward, he may yet be finding his way to a mainstream country music of the future. Let us hope.