Guy Davis – Be Ready When I Call You
M.C. Records MC-0088
13 songs – 59 minutes
One of the most gifted acoustic musicians on the planet, Guy Davis mixes light and airy melodies with profound observations about life in a troubled world on his latest album, a tour de force follow-up to Sonny & Brownie’s Last Train, which earned him and his partner, Fabrizio Poggi, a 2017 Grammy nomination.
The son of Ozzie Davis and Ruby Dee — two of the brightest lights in the Civil Rights movement and foremost actors of their generation, Guy carries forward the songster tradition here, weaving together tunes that invoke images of prejudice, separation, tragedy and discord in a manner that’s both subtle and moving in its simplicity without being overbearing – something a lesser artist would find impossible to achieve.
A mix of blues and Americana, Davis penned 12 of the 13 tracks here – a rarity in a career that spans 27 years, 14 albums and honors as both a musician and actor. A gifted storyteller, his pleasant mid-range voice is more road-worn than ever while his talents on acoustic guitar, banjo and harmonica remain first-class.
Captured at LRS Recording and Jeff Haynes Studios, Be Ready When I Call You finds Guy in multiple musical settings. He’s backed by Professor Louie (keyboards), John Platania (guitars), Christopher James (mandolin, guitar, banjo), Mark Murphy (cello, upright bass), Gary Burke (drums) and Casey Erdman, David Bernz and Timothy Hill on backing vocals.
The album pulls out of the station wistfully with the bare-bones blues, “Badnonkadonk Train” – a sly reference to sex addiction. Guy describes himself as having 19 women, but wanting one more. The choo-choo in the title runs over everyone in its path, including his preacher and the Devil, too, as he yearns for that one good lady who’ll mend his ways.
That tune serves as a benign introduction because complications begin setting in with “Got Your Letter in My Pocket.” Its sweet, unhurried melody belies words that describe a man on the run after lying to a woman’s husband about not being in love with her after unknowingly fathering their child.
Things truly get serious with the simple “God’s Gonna Make Things Over,” the most tragic, poignant song in the set – and one of the most important tunes Guy’s penned in his career – two verses and alternating choruses capable of bringing anyone with a heart to tears and a simple retelling of massacre that destroyed Black Wall Street in Tulsa in 1921, a racist travesty that was buried in the sands of time until being unearthed recently.
The ballad “Be Ready When I Call You,” which follows, appears to offer a ray of hope. But that dissipates as soon as you hear the line “You know you got to tremble when the devil calls your name.” It flows into “Flint River Blues,” a condemnation of powers-that-be allowing the poisoning of the water supply in both the Michigan city and Newark, N.J., too. The theme carries forward in “Palestine Oh Palestine,” which yearns for the past as it describes conflict in the Middle East in the most simple of terms.
The subject of “I Got a Job in the City” – a medium-paced, true-blue shuffle — is a walk in the park when compared to the political statements that precede it even though it’s delivered from the stance of a man who needs a strong drink after a hard day. The same holds true for “I’ve Looked Around,” a ballad that reminds us all that everyone in America is an immigrant and asks if we’ve seen their hungry, nakedness or the suffering of their children.
A sprightly retelling of the Willie Dixon/Howlin’ Wolf classic “Spoonful” offers up a bit of familiarity and comfort before “200 Days” details the closing of a mill the misery that results. The climate improves somewhat as Davis launches into the neo-ragtime number, “I Thought I Heard the Devil Call My Name,” before brightening dramatically with “Every Now and Then,” the celebration of an enduring love affair that reflects on troubles left behind.
An electrified blues-rocker, “Welcome to My World,” serves up another powerful statement to close, decrying white privilege, President Trump — without stating his name — and anyone who allows asylum-seekers’ infants to die at our borders. There are laws and a Constitution to protect us, he insists, as he warns that lawsuits await for anyone who stands in the path of truth, justice and the American way.
Available from most major retailers and strongly recommended for anyone with a deep social conscience and love for music with a message. It’s an emotional roller-coaster throughout, but definitely worth the trip!