Derek Davis has demonstrated the rare ability for moving between various musical styles and delivering his artistic vision convincingly in each form. His quarter century association with hard rock band Babylon A.D. has produced an impressive body of guitar driven work, but Davis’ interests reach into other areas like soul, funk, and blues. His third solo release Resonator Blues falls in the last category. The album’s dozen cuts are steeped deep in blues – acoustic, big city electric blues nonetheless reeking of the Deep South, and often powered by a hot burning rock and roll fire that never abates. The title song lays out a musical template longtime blues fans will soon recognize, but Davis is never a slavish mimic of his betters. Instead, he infuses “Resonator Blues” with a full shot of his personality via his distinctive vocal and slide guitar playing.
“Sweet Cream Cadillac” doesn’t embrace a full on electric guitar bite and, instead, cuts its blues influences with a hint of rockabilly and generates tremendous energy despite its acoustic leanings. Davis throws himself into the tune like it is a full throated electrified cry from the heart and it makes for an effective contrast with the low-fi musical backing. “Mississippi Mud”, however, brings the album into the sort of full on electrified blues we expect going into this release. Davis imbues the song with the appropriate amount of grit and there’s no sense of Davis taking any short cuts.
Davis turns in another lung-scalding vocal with his performance on “Jesus Set Me Free”. It’s a largely acoustic tune, occasionally strident, but brimming with the same hard-won soul defining every track on this album. His cover of the venerable “Death Letter” doesn’t displace the legendary Son House, but it isn’t intended to – instead it stands on its own as a superb interpretation and reinforces how deep Davis is working within the blues tradition. It is never overwrought and strikes just the right tone.
The desperation wafting off the track “Whiskey and Water” is palpable and the addition of ample harmonica makes the track all the more memorable. It also boasts a thunderous rhythm section attack that never obscures the other instrumentation. “It Hurts Me Too” ratchets up the aural intensity to previously unexplored levels and this classic blues, covered by a multitude of artists over the years, receives deluxe treatment from Davis that’s difficult, if not impossible, to forget. The steady stomp of “Back in My Arms” is further distinguished by some first class slide guitar, perhaps the best on Resonator Blues. We are treated to a final slice of acoustic blues with the last track “Prison Train” and musically it is well in keeping with the spirit inhabiting all of these tunes, but he soon dispenses with the acoustic and transforms the song into a barnburner of a tune. It is a strong conclusion to one of the best blues themed releases in the last quarter century. The ghosts of giants past preside over this release, but Derek Davis’ Resonator Blues carries its own identity burning through on every song. It’s a fantastic effort.