Butt Naked Free
Red House Records
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
Today there are several well-known blues players who have chosen to record in prewar, pre-electric guitar modes. Although there have always been blues artists who have reached back (John Hammond, Jr. and Rory Block, for example) they seem more like the odd person out. Now, choosing to play acoustic Delta or Piedmont blues is a more common, and one might say a more promising choice for gaining sympathetic listeners.
Guy Davis has chosen to record in this medium. With each album he has added more musicians, creating a fuller sound while remaining mostly acoustic. Bass, drums, accordion, and mandolin join Davis on various cuts on Butt Naked Free. This "dance band" style would have been common in the 20s and 30s, although many blues guitarists recorded solo. Davis' acoustic guitar work has a fat, full tone. He isn't a fancy soloist, and often augments his guitar playing with harmonica. Butt Naked Free also includes several songs with sparser settings.
My favorite pieces on Butt Naked Free are the shorter songs. High Flying Rocket follows the blues tradition of saying something sexual in a barely hidden metaphor. In this case, Davis jauntingly sings about impotence, a subject many blues men would have left alone. Come On Sally Hitch A Ride finds Davis in a Delta mood, forcefully singing and playing a wicked slide on a twelve-string guitar. Ain't No Bluesman carries the refrain:
|Ain't no bluesman, I'm the |
But I'll sing this song
Until my daddy comes
Written for his son, this upbeat romp best shows off the fuller sound of the bass and drums. The Place Where I Come From (Butt Naked Free) is the only instrumental, and features Davis going solo on a nice bit of Piedmont finger-picking.
Several of the longer pieces have less appeal. Raining In My Soul may be a nice song, but the electric guitar and soul influences seem out of kilter with the rest of the material. Likewise, Let Me Stay A While doesn't really seem like a blues song. On Sugarbelle Blue, Davis almost seems as if he's going for the singer-songwriter mode more than the blues. While nothing is really wrong with this, it is a little jarring on this cut. Sugarbelle is a teenage girl with good looks who leaves home only to make mistake after mistake until it's too late. The song seems overly moralistic.
Davis has written all but one of the songs on this album. Much of the material features straightforward blues lyrics, as in Meet Me Where The River Turns and My Rambling Ways. High Flying Rocket and Ain't No Bluesman are clever and funny. Other lyrics find Davis reaching for something more profound, and the liner notes reinforce this depth by explaining the inspiration for each song. Sometimes I Wish . . ., a song that Davis says is strongly based on Gary Davis' 'Death Ain't Got No Mercy In This Land,' is a meditation on the inevitability of death for family members, friends, and self. Let Me Stay Awhile contemplates the drifter arriving at a stranger's door.
Butt Naked Free finds Davis stretching the possibilities of acoustic blues without being in danger of losing his roots. The production never attempts to brighten the acoustic sound. If everything isn't successful on this album, it may be the result of refusing to stick to something familiar. The range of material and musical settings will offer a rich experience for the blues listener who wants to hear something familiar, but fresh.
Edited by Roberta B. Schwartz