Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Guy Davis prefaced his lightning-fast opening number at The Linda by saying, “I’ve stolen so much, this song doesn’t even have a title!” And even if he hadn’t name-checked Charlie Patton and Blind Willie McTell after it was all over, the SRO crowd could easily hear about 100 years of the blues coursing through Davis’ acoustic 12-string guitar, right down to the off-time beat that recalled Robert Johnson’s original version of “Crossroads.” But as Davis says he tells his students, “It’s okay to steal music – but once you steal it, you have to earn it!”
Davis definitely earns his keep. A scholar of the blues who once paid the rent as a cast member of the soap opera “One Life to Live,” Davis pays mad respect to all those who came before him by mixing their sounds into his music – that’s when he’s not breathing shining life into some of the genre’s many touchstones with either his 12-string, his six-string (which had a rose stuck in the tuning pegs) or his banjo. That last instrument might raise an eyebrow or two; it certainly did for the English music critic Davis lampooned in one of his hilarious pre-song raps. But when Davis laid a chugging take on Muddy Waters’ “I Can’t Be Satisfied” on us, I swear I could hear a freight train whistling by.
Acoustic roots music just doesn’t get much more funky, fun or fine than it did at The Egg in Albany on Sunday night, when black string band revivalists the Carolina Chocolate Drops shared the bill with Guy Davis.
The multi-talented, multi-instrumentalist members of the Choc Drops captivated a sold-out crowd at MASS MoCA in North Adams just a few months ago, but their long overdue Albany debut was even better – due in part to the intimacy of the Swyer Theatre and in part to the pairing with acoustic bluesman Guy Davis, a perfect match.
Two weeks ago, Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs hosted its fourth annual Acoustic Blues Festival. And with Guy Davis’ performance on Friday night, those acoustic blues just keep rollin’ right along.
Davis is the son of acclaimed actors Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, and yes, he’s done a bit of acting himself with a recurring role on the daytime soap “One Life to Live” and the 1984 hip-hop movie, “Beat Street.”
He’s combined his acting and blues talents in a number of stage productions, including the off-Broadway show, “Robert Johnson: Trick the Devil,” and Broadway productions of “Mulebone” and “Finian’s Rainbow.”
But Davis has got the blues in his blood, and he recorded his debut album, “Dreams About Life,” on the Smithsonian Folkways label back 1978. For the past 15 years or so, he’s been recording for Red House Records, including his latest album, last year’s “Sweetheart Like You.”
Whether he’s playing 6 or 12-string guitar, harmonica, banjo, accordion, mandolin or whatever, Davis finds the groove – the heart and soul of a song.
Guy Davis makes a stop at Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs at 8pm on Friday. Tix are $22 in advance; $24 at the door, and we’ve got a pair to give away to a lucky Nippertown reader! To be entered into the drawing, just leave a comment below…the winner will be announced on Friday morning. Congratulations, Kim!
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