Review - Guy Davis
Guy Davis - The Eighth Step at Proctors, Jan. 4
In the world of the blues, perhaps the strangest crossroads of all is the intersection of down-home acoustic guitar fingerpicking and the daytime soaps, where stands the handsome and endlessly entertaining Guy Davis. The 55-year-old son of late stage-and-screen actor Ossie Davis played Dr. Josh Hall on One Life to Live from 1985 to 1986 in addition to other thespian endeavors, before turning to a musical career as a bluesman in the 1990s. Frankly, both his contemporaries John Hammond Jr. and Paul Geremia can play circles around him on guitar. But Davis’ acting skills, on full display last Saturday night during his engaging presong monologues and bits of clowning for a sellout crowd at the Eighth Step’s new home (the 100-seat Upstairs at 440 theater at Proctors), served to remind that good looks and superior showmanship can more than make up for less-than-virtuosic picking.
sporting a porkpie hat and a gray vest over a red shirt with casual
slacks, and performing seated, mostly offered material from both famous
artists like Muddy Waters to obscure ones like prewar delta bluesman
Isham Bracey in the first of his two sets. His opener, Bracey’s
“Saturday Blues,” set the tone for many—in fact, too many—of his songs:
left foot stomping around 100 beats per minute, and playing simple but
cleanly executed alternating thumb guitar parts that seldom ventured
above the first five frets of the fingerboard.
Although his voice was a little hoarse at first, he sang well in a smoky baritone, and his rack-mounted harmonica, heard later in the set, was on the money. When he played Charles Brown’s “Driftin’ Blues,” he started off by holding a single high note on the harmonica for as long as he could, and drew laughter when he checked his watch toward the note’s end. He frailed the 5-string banjo for a novel version Muddy’ Waters’ “I Can’t Be Satisfied,” but like his guitar work, his banjo playing was fairly basic.
Davis’ second set consisted largely of originals, of varying quality. Among his best songs was a field holler recorded by Leadbelly for which Davis wrote a guitar part. It sounded like an English folk revival song—haunting and musically unpredictable. On the other hand, his risqué “Chocolate Man” was a blatant rip-off of the country blues chestnut “Candyman.” Nobody seemed to notice, though, and when he got to the line “You can eat my bonbons two at a time,” a chorus of women in the audience boisterously registered their enthusiasm at the prospect.
Guitar chops aside, show biz is all about entertaining a crowd, and Guy Davis, sometimes minstrel, sometimes jester, aced it.
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