You’d never know Derek Davis hails from the sunny climes of Oakland, California just from listening to his latest solo album Resonator Blues. His voice sounds drenched in the Deep South, no affected twang burdening his vocals, but instead the sediment shifting soulfulness at the heart of his voice, his ability to modulate through an array of emotions without ever lapsing into self-indulgence, and the strong whiff of the storyteller coming across in the way he twists lines to such great affect. There isn’t a single one of the twelve songs on this release that Davis doesn’t show up for, in full, and inhabit with every ounce of his artistic imagination and power.
Passion is key as well. The passion leaps out at you from the first cut. “Resonator Blues” shows, if nothing else, that Davis has immersed himself in blues music and is capable of leaving his own stamp on its traditional sound. Too many artists who turn their hand to the blues hit cookie cutter marks and fail to invest their attempts at the music with any real personality or originality. Instead, Derek Davis pulls off quite a balancing act between referencing the long past of blues music while still pumping it full of his character. You hear that as well on the second track “Sweet Cream Cadillac” – it might recall, for some, old time rock music, but it is full of blues as well and Davis puts all of himself into refashioning his influences on this song into something familiar, yet uniquely his own.
“Mississippi Mud” is the latest single from the album and boils with deep emotion and authenticity; it will likely be one of his marquee live numbers going forward from here. He utilizes dynamics in a way few songs on the release match and the drumming has some propulsive fills, but otherwise swings like a mother from the first and make the track really move. The instrumental breaks on this album provide some of its tastiest moments and “Red Hot Lover” rates high with such moments and the pairing of Davis’ guitar and harmonica gives the song a lot of punch. The uptempo clip of the track makes it hit even harder as well.
“Death Letter” and “Whiskey and Water” are highlights on the release as well. The first cut is a ferocious take on a song popularized by blues legend Son House, but Davis avoids being too reverential and, instead, tries to make this song his own and succeeds. Harmonica returns on the second song “Whiskey and Water” and the bloodshot eyes and white knuckle energy he brings to the performance sears itself into listener’s memory lingers long after the last note fades out. The album’s final tune, “Prison Train”, moves from an acoustic blues during the first part of the tune into a final shot of pure electric blues that underlines all of the album’s strengths without repeating itself. Derek Davis’ Resonator Blues may be his third solo release, but it sounds like a musical artist reaching his full maturity. It makes for a glorious listen.