Reviews by Jennifer Layton
- out of my skin
Artist: Nathan Davis
Home: Raleigh, North Carolina
Quote: It's a night of full-steam ahead musical deliverance captured on CD.
I'm still alive, and you thought I'd be dead at twenty-five...
Somehow, that line from Still Rock and Roll, one of the tracks off Nathan Davis' first live CD, seems to sum up the whole album. This old-school blues/rock singer/songwriter has seen and done way too much to have even made it to North Carolina's Six String Cafe to record this album. But he's here. And this CD captures him in his element - onstage. He's not even one for storytelling. Just an appreciative "thanks" after each song, then he's into the next one, with the wonderfully talented pianist John Henry Trinko adding dramatic effects on the keys. It's a night of full-steam ahead musical deliverance captured on CD. No wonder the audience response is so explosive and filled with exhilaration as each song ends.
Most of these songs fall in the bluesy ballad category, although Davis and Trinko kick things off with a James McMurtry cover (Too Long in the Wasteland) that starts as an almost violent instrumental - the piano chords hit like blows while the guitar races and scrambles for cover. At the end, Davis practically howls at the moon. This man holds nothing back.
The live atmosphere gives the listener a chance to focus on Davis' lyrics, and in many cases, he is obviously describing himself in twisted imagery. From Promised Land:
Deep within my darkest hour
I found a shadow of a tortured man
Lived a million lives too fast
Scratched away his peeling skin ...
Sometimes I don't have much to say
And my guitar speaks better anyway...
Another standout is the hesitant love song Carolina Sky, sung entirely without love-song cliché, just from-the-gut professions such as the fact that she looks beautiful even with smeared mascara. Save the Shakespeare. Sometimes this is all a girl needs to hear.
Davis has always been gutsy, raw, and real. After several studio projects, he finally presents himself on his home turf, playing for his fans, doing what he loves more than anything else in the world. Even more than the drugs that almost did him in. This CD is the sound of a man whose soul was saved by music.
Saturday, July 09, 2005
Artist: Nathan Davis
CD: Out of My Skin (Faithless Music)
Home: Southern Pines, NC
Quote: Take all the anger, addiction, despair, revelation, love, and redemption that can possibly be packed into the human heart over a lifetime, pour it into gospel piano and raw guitar, lead it with a vocal that can growl, rasp, plead, and roar, and this is the result.
I'm usually the one to get mad when people talk during performances at the Six String Cafe. After shooting them a few of my best angry glares, I finally get up and ask them in my most polite yet annoyed voice to put a sock in it because I'm trying to hear the music.
Then I saw Nathan Davis play at a Six String open mic. Two songs. One electrifying, playfully jazzy funk song built around the Peanuts theme, and then a passionately beautiful blues ballad. Absolutely joy in his face as he strummed the hell out of that acoustic guitar and belted out those lyrics. I remember thinking, "What the hell's this guy doing at an open mic?!"
When he was done packing up his guitar, I joined him at the back of the room to give him my card and talk about his music. We were talking about his upcoming shows, he was talking about his new CD, I was talking about Indie-Music.com, and then this girl turned around and was talking about how she would like us to be quiet so she could hear the guy who was playing onstage.
In other words, I got shushed at the Six String. Me. Damn that Nathan.
At least he gave me his CD, Out of My Skin. Take all the anger, addiction, despair, revelation, love, and redemption that can possibly be packed into the human heart over a lifetime, pour it into gospel piano and raw guitar, lead it with a vocal that can growl, rasp, plead, and roar, and this is the result.
Davis opens with the Face in the Crowd, which uses the same musical technique of the first song he played at the open mic: let the short attention span rule. In this breakup song, he lashes out with aggressive funk/rock, then slides into a quiet yet steady boiling-beneath-the-surface interlude. Then we get a Calypso-rock segment, like he decided to escape his bad relationship by hijacking a Carnival Cruise ship with an electric guitar. Next, the organ kicks in with gospel rage rock. Finally, it's full circle back to the funk/rock finale. This is one hell of a breakup song. He practically leaves tire tracks on her face.
From there, he turns the pain inward. His instrumental tribute to the victims of September 11th turns the national anthem into a prayer. In his ballads, Davis has a way of plucking the guitar strings and then pausing just long enough to let the reverb shimmy its way down your spine.
His lyrics aren't pretty, but I've never heard anyone sing of helpless regret like this. Blow is an eerie, echoed track sung on the line between life and death, with addiction ready to deliver that final push:
So you can dry your eyes and rest your weary head tonight
'cause I can find my own salvation giving up this fight
Tear out my eyes and give 'em to a nice guy going blind
Just tell them they've forgotten how to cry.
The CD ends with John Coltrane, a magical, reminiscing tribute to the simple joy of listening to a musical hero, and it feels like healing from the darkness of the previous tracks. Perfect placement on the CD. I love the liner notes, in which Davis writes that it never occurred to him to ask a sax player to play on this song. I think it's good that this tribute doesn't have a sax. It lets the imagination fill in Coltrane's part.
Out of My Skin is an emotional road trip. This CD is a triumph. And what's even more stunning than seeing Davis play live for the first time is reading more of the liner notes and discovering that producer Grant Walker is only seventeen years old. Where does he get off being this talented this young? These kids today...
Friday, June 06, 2003