Aesthetically Speaking

Guy Davis: New album Chocolate to the Bone down home grit aplenty

Guy Davis is back at it, serious as bad news with Chocolate To The Bone (Red House). Davis is known far and wide for blowing authentic rural blues like nobody’s business. He’s not as well known as Taj Mahal and Keb Mo’,… Guy Davis is back at it, serious as bad news with Chocolate To The Bone (Red House). Davis is known far and wide for blowing authentic rural blues like nobody’s business. He’s not as well known as Taj Mahal and Keb Mo’, but he takes back seat to neither: chickens don’t scratch and hogs don’t root with more down-home grit. Davis showed up in town last year at Cedar Cultural Center and laid everybody out, promoting Give In Kind, lacing the set with album cuts and choice selections from his vast repertoire. There’s no telling when he’ll be this way again, but, until then, Chocolate To The Bone suffices just fine and gives you a lot to look forward to.

Son of Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee and, former actor Davis honors both his lineage and his heritage with recordings like this. Give In Kind offered exquisite renditions of songs like Big Bill Broonzy’s “Good Liquor”, Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “The Loneliest Road That I Know” and Leroy Carr’s “Six Feet of Cold Ground” as well as the fine original tune “Layla, Layla”.

Like all Davis’ four previous releases, Give In Kind had critics all across the country wild about it. Vintage Guitar magazine raved, “If you don’t think real country blues singers exist in this day and age, give this one a listen. [Guy Davis] knows and conveys what it’s all about.” Muddy Waters biographer Robert Gordon stated, “If the earthy power of Guy Davis doesn’t grab your attention…you need to make sure you’re still alive.” The New York Times, Village Voice, Boston Globe and USA Today are but a few more in long list of publications that readily and rapturously applaud Davis.

Chocolate To The Bone, incredibly enough is a superior performance to Give In Kind and should send the same critics back to the drawing board, coming up with bigger and better superlatives than those that were showered on the W. C. Handy Award nominated Give In Kind. Davis holds forth in accustomed take-no-prisoners fashion, playing tasty acoustic guitar and sweet harp, vocals growling rough and tough as bad times. Much kudos is due to producer John Plantania for capturing lightning in a jar. Plantania, who oversees a sound is as faithful to Davis’ artistry as Davis is to the material. Sidemen par excellence are Gary Burke (traps), Mark Murphy (bass), Howard Johnson (tuba), Nerak Roth Patterson (guitar), Tommy T-bone Wolk (keys) and David Helper (backup vocals).

This time around, covers include the work of such masters as Sleepy John Estes, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Ishman Bracey, while Davis acquits his own writing hand with new offerings like “Honey Babe”, “Railroad Story” and “Tell Me Where The Road Is”, a somber, haunting reflection on a life wasted through liquor and cocaine. His mournful “Set A Place For Me”, in the classic ballad tradition of Son House’s “House of the Rising Sun and the Rev. Gary Davis’ “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” is a blood-chilling dirge baring the heart, mind and soul of a murderer on death row sending regrets back home to his beloved mama. Also in the I-guess-I’m-gon’-get-outta-bed-and-go-cut-my-throat is “Drifting Blues” by Charles Brown, Johnny Moore and Edward Williams, reminiscence by a loser at both love and life who just can’t figure out how to win. An impassioned Davis takes this tale of self-pity and makes you wish there was hope. Similarly, his version of John Lee Hooker’s “I Believe I’ll Lose My Mind”, about a man who can’t please a mean woman yet won’t leave her alone, moves you to having sympathy for a fool. Davis has infectious, laid back fun with the lighthearted traditionals “Step It Up And Go” and “Shortin’ Bread”, wizened delivery of wry humor pasting a warm smile on your face. Willie Dixon’s “Back Door Man” is done majestic justice as Davis puts muscle to the bone, regaling the exploits of a chicken-gobblin’, gun-totin’, wife-stealin’ desperado. Bracey’s saga of sexual misadventure “Saturday Blues”, to

July 1, 2003
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