Guy Davis – Kokomo Kidd | Album Review

guydaviscdGuy Davis – Kokomo Kidd

M.C. Records MC-0078

13 songs – 62 minutes

Multi-talented entertainer Guy Davis proves once again why he’s in the forefront of the songster blues tradition with this seemingly effortless, but technically complex album, the 13th disc in an arsenal that consistently attracts awards consideration.

An accomplished actor, storyteller and educator whose mission as a blues ambassador regularly takes him to the four corners of the world, Davis plows new ground with Kokomo Kidd, producing and mixing himself in the studio for the first time as he delivers eight extremely introspective originals as well as five cover tunes that he’s reworked and made his own.

This is Davis’ second release on the M.C. label, a follow-up to Juba Dance, which was nominated for Acoustic Album Of The Year in the 2014 Blues Music Awards. A multi-instrumentalist, he accompanies himself on acoustic six- and 12-string guitar, banjo and harmonica, and also contributes work on keyboards and percussion.

Assisting in the production are Professor Louie on keys, John Platania and Chris James on guitar and mandolin, Mark Murphy on bass and cello, and Gary Burke on drums. Charlie Musselwhite and Fabrizio Poggi, Davis’ partner on Juba Dance, each make a guest appearance for one cut each on harmonica, as does Preservation Jazz Hall Band member Ben Jaffe on tuba. Backing vocals are provided by David Helper, Miss Marie Spinosa, Audrey Martells and Zhana Roiya.

Davis lays down a steady banjo rhythm line accented by Jaffe’s horn to weave the story of “Kokomo Kidd,” a Depression-era bootlegger who winds up an advisor to Republican insiders in Washington, hacking emails, keeping Supreme Court justices high on drugs and keeping secrets along the way. It’s based on the legend of a real-life ne’er-do-well who began life as a coal man delivering fuel to the White House.

Next up is the truly bittersweet “Wish I Hadn’t Stayed Away So Long,” a ballad dealing with the real-life loss of his mother, actress and civil rights activist Ruby Dee, and folk singer Pete Seeger, who served as his role model. It’s a tune that’s certain to bring tears to the eyes of anyone who’s suffered the loss of a loved one and been unable to say farewell.

“Taking Just A Little Bit Of Time” follows. It’s an upbeat, but somewhat subdued song of praise for life away from the bright lights to enjoy life in the country. Another Davis original, “She Just Wants To Be Loved” is centered on a phone call from a woman who’s suffered abuse and breaks down in tears because she feels unloved. Like “Wish I Hadn’t Stayed Away So Long,” it will tug at your heartstrings.

Davis pays tribute to Piedmont blues harmonica players Sonny Terry in “Like Sonny Did,” contributing a harp line straight out of Sonny’s songbook and accented with his trademark vocal whoops. It’s a tip of the hat to the master after having starred in a Broadway revival of “Finian’s Rainbow,” which featured Terry’s harp work in its 1947 debut. A reinterpretation of Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” follows, delivered at slow tempo, upping the romantic values of the tune to the heavens. Then Davis dissects Willie Dixon’s “Little Red Rooster” with the aid of Musselwhite. His cover slows the pace dramatically, wringing more feel and more of the Delta out of the song than most previous recordings.

“Maybe I’ll Go” is a song about a romance that doesn’t work. It’s based on a Mississippi John Hurt song and delivered in the style of Piedmont guitar great Elizabeth Cotton. Another love song, the upbeat “Blackberry Kisses,” follows and includes a waltz time break before “Have You Every Loved Two Women (But Couldn’t Make Up Your Mind?)” A new tune, it has a ’20s feel, aided by Poggi’s harp work.

Davis revises that decade next, however, with a version of Tommy Johnson’s “Cool Drink Of Water.” A retake of Amos “Bumble Bee Slim” Easton’s 1930s classic “Bumble Bee Blues” follows before a stunning reworking of Donovan’s “Wear Your Love Like Heaven” concludes the set.

Available through all of the major online outlets, Kokomo Kidd delivers simple themes directly atop richly layered musical accompaniment. Strongly recommended.

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