David Davis & the Warrior River Boys
Two Dimes & a Nickel
5 stars (out of 5)
A true bluegrass gentleman, David Davis doesn’t release albums terribly often. But when he does…Wow!
Since taking control of The Warrior River Boys more than twenty years ago, and including this new Rebel recording, Davis has only released five albums of new material. That this is the third release in just over five years would indicate that Davis may have found his stride.
A David Davis & the Warrior River Boys album sounds like no one else’s. While certainly commercially palatable, Davis occupies a fine niche within the bluegrass market. He doesn’t seem to have the populist appeal of a Skaggs, Cherryholmes, Lawson, or Vincent, but he possesses an artistic vision as defined and assured as any of those mentioned.
David Davis albums have a bluesy, literary quality setting them apart from the annual releases of several more commercially successful artists. Witness his 2004 treatment of Bill Grant’s “In the Shade of the Big Buffalo” or “Chancellorsville” and “The River Ran Black” from 2006’s Troubled Times. To give them their proper due, Davis albums should come leather-bound as is afforded the finest classic writing. Like those of Blue Highway, Davis releases have substance balanced by cracking good performances.
That Davis writes none of the songs on Two Dimes & a Nickel matters not; the man works tirelessly to uncover songs of unusual quality, and then interprets them to best reveal their stories, emotions, and messages.
As he has in the past, Davis turns to West Virginian Alan Johnston for standout songs. Just when one thought the John Hardy story had been examined from every possible slant, along comes Johnston’s “Two Dimes & a Nickel” revealing a fully realized, multi-dimensional man, albeit one with anger-management issues.
The album’s strongest track is Tommy Freeman’s “The Brambles, Briars and Me.” Again, a seemingly exhausted vein — infidelity leading to lonely contemplation — is explored, but the songwriter finds fresh perspective. A flipside to “Long Black Veil,” this time out the best friend and the straying wife pay the ultimate price at the hands of the cuckold. Stalking the hills, the betrayed spends time among the brambles and briars remembering not only their transgressions but what he lost as a result. The song is positively spooky in its matter-of-factness, and the Warrior River Boys — especially Owen Saunders’ fiddle contributions — make it haunting.
David Davis brings to mind Buzz Busby as Davis tends investigate the dark sides of relationships and society, exploring the qualities most of us resist or keep hidden.
Like the best of Johnny Cash’s recorded material, Davis’s songs possess a cinematic scope. Thematically similar, Freeman’s “Tennessee Line,” Jim Eanes’s “Broken Promise,” and Jim Kelly’s “Never Looking Back” are fully-realized treatments that could provide inspiration to filmmakers. While very different from John R. in voice, Davis frequently favors a half-spoken singing style reminiscent of the Man in Black.
Ensuring familiarity, the band hauls out a couple festival favorites in “I’ve Been All Around this World” and “The Train That Carried My Girl to Town.” “Never Looking Back” could be a song written in 1964, so straightforward it is in its approach. Yet the song never seems to resort cliché, even as the rambler compares life to a railroad.
Whenever a bluegrass band illuminates the mountain music roots of a rock song, one must be impressed. The Marshall Tucker Band’s “Blue Ridge Mountain Skies” is re-imagined and sounds more bluegrass than much currently resting on the national surveys. The lyrical phrases are compacted befitting the chosen tempo, and the instrumental breaks are elongated allowing the banjo and mandolin to breath life into the tune. It’s fresh, vibrant, and inventive.
The same can be said for the entire album. Once again, David Davis and his Warrior River Boys — Saunders, Adam Duke (guitar), Marty Hayes (bass and tenor vocals), and newcomer Robert Montgomery (banjo and baritone vocals) — have ideally captured their truly unique approach to bluegrass.
Kudos to the Rebel team, and artistic director Christopher Kornmann, for encouraging and designing a album package and booklet that have timeless qualities. The photography captures the reflective moods of the songs, the layout is clean, and the effects are appropriate for a nontraditional-sounding bluegrass album that embraces the history and spirit of the music.
A classic recording.
by Donald Teplyske