13 songs – 56 minutes
Blues guitarist Guy Davis seamlessly combines standards with his own original compositions as he breathes new life into the country blues idiom on Juba Dance, assisted by Fabrizio Poggi on harmonica.
Named after a form of expression that originated in West Africa and involves foot-stomping and patting of the arms, legs, chest and cheeks, juba – also known as hambone — was brought to the New World via the slave trade and was a precursor to the blues. In many ways, it was used as an attempt to dance away one’s sorrows. With “Juba Dance,” Davis weaves both the beauty and pain of that experience into a rich, modern musical tapestry.
The son of celebrated actors and Civil Rights activists Ruby Dee and Ozzie Davis and an actor-director himself, Guy fell in love with the music by listening to his grandparents. He’s celebrated them throughout his career by weaving their experiences into his songs. Poggi, who co-produced this CD, is a native of Voghera, Italy, where he’s also journalist, and has performed frequently in the U.S. during the past 20 years, most notably with his band, Chicken Mambo.
Davis’ first release on the M.C. Records imprint, the disc kicks off with “Lost Again,” on which he alternates among six- and 12-string guitars and upper-register harmonicas while Poggi pitches in on lower-register and bass harps. “Wishin’ on the wrong star/Walkin’ down the wrong street/Stoppin’ in the wrong park/Sippin’ on the wrong drink/Talkin’ to the wrong girl/I was lost again.” You get the idea. It’s a sprightly little upbeat original on which Guy also provides clever cowbell accents.
A Muddy Waters original, “My Eyes Keep Me In Trouble,” features Davis and Poggi alternating vocals and harp before Guy launches into the tender “Love Looks Good On You,” an original with a classic feel. Guy shares vocal duties with blues and gospel powerhouse Lea Gilmore on “Some Cold Rainy Day,” written in 1928 by Bertha “Chippie” Hill, an early blues and vaudeville superstar. Then he gets an assist from the Blind Boys Of Alabama – Jimmy Carter, Ben Moore, Eric “Ricky” McKinnie and Joey Williams – for a triumphant version of “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.” The tune has special meaning for Davis. Written by Blind Lemon Jefferson, Guy sang it at his father’s funeral.
Davis’ claw-hammer banjo picking is featured on “Dance Juba Dance,” while “Black Coffee” is his tribute to John Lee Hooker, highlighted by Poggi’s rich, soulful contributions on the diatonic harmonica. He’s also featured on “Did You See My Baby,” Guy’s homage to Piedmont harmonica star Sonny Terry.
The guitarist wrote the next tune, “Satisfied,” based on a memory recounted to him by musician Bryan Bowers. It’s a recreation of the call-and-response between two groups of prison-farm inmates, one male, the other female. The final four cuts are all modern takes on early blues classics. Rev. Robert Wilkins’ “That’s No Way To Get Along” leads into an interpretation of Ishman Bracey’s “Saturday Blues.” Another Wilkins original, “Prodigal Son,” follows with Davis using an arrangement conceived by Josh White. The disc concludes with Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues.”
This is a beautiful, clean presentation from beginning to end, and has earned Davis a nomination for 2014 Blues Music Association Acoustic Album Of The Year. It’s an instant, but timeless classic.