Guy Davis

Guy Davis
Sweetheart Like You

Red House Records RHR211

By Art Tipaldi
February 2009

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Guy Davis remains one of the most dedicated acoustic blues artists traveling the circuit today. He is a perennial nominee in the Blues Music Awards for both his performances and records. His latest, Sweetheart Like You, contains all the elements of the American music tree that Davis injects into whatever he records or performs.

Influenced by all forms of art from blues musicians such as Mississippi John Hurt and Taj Mahal, to writers like Zora Neale Hurston, to his parents - the great actors Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, Davis has learned the essentials of storytelling through word and music.

Davis is a modern master of everything string. Here he plays finger style guitars, bottlenecks, banjos, mandolins, and harmonicas. By calling upon his varied musical friends, he adds whatever color is necessary to shade the story. Thus, there are snatches of electric guitars, pianos, upright basses, accordions, and drums - but always tastefully added.

His stories are a colorful swirl of time-honored blues mixed with his own original visions. The album opens with the title cut, a very different cover of this 1983 Bob Dylan song. It’s seven minutes are buoyed by Davis’s high end, acoustic harmonica. His hushed delivery of the lyrics and Professor Louie’s organ gently sway the tune. Davis’s longtime friend Nerak Roth Patterson adds a waterfall of notes that darken the song’s theme.

Other covers include Muddy’s “Can’t Be Satisfied,” solo banjo style; Willie Dixon’s “Hootchie Cootchie Man,” with all the Chicago ensemble power of piano, harmonica and guitar; and Son House’s plaintive “Down South Blues,” a naked look at segregated life in House’s time.

His two covers of Leadbelly update the folk blues Leadbelly popularized in his day. Both expertly picked by Davis on his 12- string, “Follow Me Down” underscores some of the racial lessons from Leadbelly’s day, while Davis sings “Ain’t Goin’” Down as it might have originally been first heard in the fields of the deep South.

Davis is at his “natch’l” best when he story-tells.

“Slow Motion Daddy” celebrates this slow lovin’ daddy as banjo picking - and a whoopin’ Sonny Terry-styled harp back the Lothario’s bragging. “Bring Back Storyville” is the 12-string, ragtime tale based on the streets of New Orleans, circa 1910. The accordion-guitar combination on “Steamboat Captain” is an old-timey dream whose metaphor is as important today as it was in the days the music recreates.

On “Words To My Mama’s Song,” he calls on his son Martial to add his contemporary, vocal beat boxing. This is Mother Ruby in Guy’s head and Grandma Ruby in Martial’s head.

This dedication to family, tradition, and American music is exactly what we’ve come to expect from Guy Davis.

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