Reviews by Jennifer Layton
- out of my skin
- six string
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
Musical Survival Stories - Nathan Davis Plays the Six String
by Jennifer Layton for the Cary News (2003)
Nathan Davis has lived his life in survival mode.
Hiding rock albums under his bed while growing up in a fundamentalist Christian household. Leaving home at seventeen and hitchiking through several different states. Winding up in Alaska, living in a log cabin with no electricity, no running water and no outhouse.
Then there was recovery from drug addiction while he struggled to make a name for himself as a musician. It took his friends, his growing fan base, and a teenage whiz-kid producer to pull him out of the pain and channel it into his songs.
Which explains why his current challenges don't faze him much. Married with two children and another due in March, with a very popular multi-genre CD Out of My Skin and several new musical projects in the works, Davis is just happy to be alive and making music. The artist who now calls Southern Pines home will return to Cary's Six String Cafe on Friday, November 28.
The tracks on Out of My Skin burst out of the speakers with gospel piano, funk rock, jazz and blues. The lyrics detail the gritty realities of substance abuse and the simple joy of hearing John Coltrane on the radio while driving in the rain. The lyrics aren't always pretty, and they don't follow radio-friendly formulas. Davis feels that is exactly why he's now headlining to large audiences at the Six String, where he once played the Open Mics.
"I'm a conversational lyricist," Davis says. "I hear some songwriters talking about setting poetry to music, and I just want to slap them. In my songs, I'm not making apologies. I've seen a lot of darkness. I just get it out of me."
The nearly sold-out album almost didn't happen. After three years of growing popularity in Anchorage, where he played to packed clubs with his band Kinda Blue, Nathan returned to his home state of North Carolina and tried to start from scratch. He recorded a few tracks and fruitlessly tried to convince local record store owners to carry the CD. Seventeen-year-old Grant Walker interrupted one such argument.
Davis remember that meeting well. "Grant started asking me about my music and talked his mom into buying my CD. He started coming to my shows after that and began learning about production. He bought recording equipment and experimented with it. He finally called me one day and said, 'It's time for you to make a full-length CD, and I'm the one to produce it.'"
Walker's youth and inexperience would have deterred other artists. But the 23-year-old Davis had experienced more than most people his age and was eager to get started. He operated once again in survival mode. The two had no funds for studio space, so they recorded the CD at the Walker house while Mom was out of town.
"It was definitely a learning process for both of us," Davis remembers. "We made every possible mistake at least twenty times. We didn't have a bass guitar, so I made some tuning changes on an acoustic guitar and used that instead. When the reverb machine broke down, we put a barstool in the middle of a shower stall. We hung a microphone over the wall. I sat there and recorded vocal tracks. Some people say they do their best singing in the shower, and I wound up recording a whole song in there!"
The resulting album evoked passionate responses from fans and critics alike. When Indie-Music.com posted a rave review, fans posted detailed responses, sharing how the lyrics of pain, redemption, and joy changed their lives.
The experience changed Walker as well. He now studies at a music production school in Florida and will use his new skills to re-vamp Out of My Skin with Davis in December. In the meantime, Davis will be recording tracks at his upcoming Six String show for both a live CD and a six-track DVD.
"I had to record the live material at the Six String," Davis says. "It's my favorite place to play. They took a chance on us. We basically walked in with no fan base. They eventually offered us an opening slot, and the headliner was late, so we just kept playing until he finally showed up! The owner really appreciated the way we were able to keep the show going, and now we get to headline there."
Davis is riding the wave, building his self-confidence in the process. "I'd like to be nationally recognized someday. That's a big goal, but if I can overcome everything I've had to face so far, I think I can meet any goal I set. I'm not going to stop touring and playing until my feet fall off!"
Ever the survivor, Davis would probably find a way to work around that problem too.