FAME Review: Davina & the Vagabonds - Sunshine
Davina & the Vagabonds - Sunshine


Davina & the Vagabonds

Available from iTunes.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

I was wondering when this was going to happen, this ilk of soulified turnabout on the Julie Brown / Cyndi Lauper gig taken into jazz kickups. I shoulda figured it'd be Davina Sowers who'd knock the sixes back and polish up the ribaldry with N'Awlins sass, especially after her impressive 2011 Black Cloud (here). This time, she's updating a bit from that, tightroping a more experimental purview, something shown quite well in Fizzle Out, indexing Billie Holiday into Maria Muldaur, Gladys Knight, Bessie Smith, the Pointer Sisters, and an array of chanteuses ranging from the Flapper Era backwards to even earlier gin joints, the kind that gave rise to speakeasies before side alleying with Louis Armstring and his Hot Five, before speeding forward to our present day of ingenious and oft dizzying hybridizations.

We're told Davina & the Vagabonds took root nine years ago in down 'n dirty blues, and I have little trouble picturing that, but along the way turned into a formidably tight offbeat blend of so many styles that no one can quite nail down a pigeon hole save to refer to a striking simultaneous blend of everything vintage but fresh, as old as the hills yet as unique as tomorrow. The key to it all lies in Davina's irrepressible wont to trot her own materials out, as she did in the last outing and has chiefly repeated here (along with three covers), that unique brain of hers serving as the nexus through which the top end of yesteryear's high steppers and hoydens meet with the later cocaine and Xstacy crowd looking for new territory.

We're also told that time between Black Cloud and Sunshine has been grueling, hectic, and involved a number of personnel changes, yet you'd never know that unless you were told. The Monterey Herald touted the ensemble as the "breakout stars at this year's [Monterey Jazz] festival" when they appeared there, the Minneapolis Star Tribune cited Black Cloud as one of the Top 10 of the year, Downbeat was equally ensorcelled, and the new band is, dare I say it?, just as brilliant as any configuration and even more so. The dense welter of daunting arrangements, chops, and at times almost avant-garde takes on well established modes is breathtaking.

Sowers is at her most commanding in the classic I'd Rather Drink Mudddy Water before turning slinky, surprised, and indignated on You Must be Losing Your Mind, but her capture of those standards integrates so seamlessly into her own compositions that one finds oneself shocked to discover the entire CD isn't a collection of gems and jewels rescued from America's bygone heyday. Pay attention to the keystones: voice and piano (Sowers), and then trombone (Benjamin Link), as that last one is far more influential than at first seems to be the case. The rest of the band falls in behind, and the tag-team solos 'twixt 'bone and trumpet in You Must be Losing Your Mind will knock your socks off…though, really, there isn't a minute here that's less than dazzling.

Track List:

  • Sunshine
  • Flow
  • Fizzle Out
  • Away From Me
  • I Try To Be Good
  • Better Start Prayin
  • Red Shoes
  • Throw It To The Wolves For Love
  • I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water (Eddie Miller)
  • You Must Be Losing Your Mind (Thomas Wright Waller)
  • Heavenly Day (Patty Griffin)
  • Under Lock and Key
All songs written by Davina Sowers except as noted.

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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