Roustabout Records – 2014
12 tracks; 42 minutes
Davina & The Vagabonds come from Minneapolis and this is the follow up to their 2011 album “Black Cloud”. They continue to plough a lonely furrow with a sound that takes its inspiration more from pre-war rather than 21st Century music. That style is reflected in the instrumentation of the band with Davina Sowers on piano and vocals, Daniel Eikmeier on trumpet, Benjamin Link on trombone, Andrew Burns on sousaphone and acoustic bass, Connor McRae Hammergren on drums. Guest musicians are Tony Balluff on clarinet and Zach Miller on vibes.
The band mainly lets the songs do the talking and there are few solos here. The album opens with the title track which has a soulful start from Davina on piano before the band enters to make it a rollicking, catchy piece with the horns in charge. “Flow” is also upbeat with a hint of Caribbean lilt. “Fizzle Out” is more modern in approach and sounds as if it could have been recorded by a singer such as Lily Allen or Amy Winehouse.
“Away From Me” is a ballad which the horns sit out, leaving Davina’s piano in the lead and gives us the chance to consider her voice which certainly carries the tunes but is rather nasal and does not have a great range. The horns, particularly the trombone, return with a vengeance on the tango “I Try to Be Good”, a song that could easily have been recorded by many of the singers of the inter-war years, as could “Throw It To The Wolves” with its archly 20’s jazz feel. “You Better Start Praying” is again retro in feel, the horns providing a nicely jazzy feel. The spirit of New Orleans arrives with “Red Shoes”, possibly the pick of the songs on this album.
Thus far all the material has been original but Davina then throws in three covers. The rather frantic version of “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water” certainly places the album into a blues context but did not stand up to some of the many versions that have become familiar over the years.
Fats Waller is probably a better fit with Davina’s style and the piano intro to “You Must Be Losing Your Mind” sounds very authentic. However, the vocals worked less well on this sparse arrangement which is by a long chalk the longest track here, really the only example of extended soloing across the album as each member of the band gets a solo spot: nice for them but not the greatest listen!
A solo piano/vocal version of Patty Griffin’s “Heavenly Day” makes an effective album closer though there is a bonus track – a reprise of the title track from an out of print 2007 album entitled “Under Lock And Key” which returns us to the more modern style of “Flow” and “Fizzle Out”.
Those who have enjoyed previous albums from Davina & The Vagabonds will undoubtedly enjoy their latest offering. Coming to their music for the first time it is not always easy to ‘get’ what they are trying to do but all credit to them for trying something different to the standard blues-rock formula.