Oakland, California native Derek Davis has already left his mark on modern music; everything from this point is just gravy. If nothing else mattered, Davis’ tenure as one of Babylon A.D.’s songwriting and musical highlights has changed innumerable lives and perspectives; the sheer durability of the act is testament to that.
Davis is not content however. His solo releases see him moving away from the hard rock posturing comprising so much of what Babylon A.D. does and, instead, embracing roots music with perhaps surprising conviction and credibility. His third solo release Resonator Blues is a natural successor to 2017’s Revolutionary Soul and boasts a dozen songs for listeners.
The opener and title song serve immediate notice of what we are in store for. “Resonator Blues” burns with a classic Chicago blues feel but the Delta rises off Davis’ slide guitar playing and his collaborators follow the KISS method of making this music reverberate for listeners – keep it simple, stupid, and feel the music rather than over thinking it. The piano included with the song gives it a rollicking tone we do not often hear with songs of this ilk.
The album’s latest single “Mississippi Mud” has soul and grit in abundance. Davis’ rough hewn vocal invokes the textures of a molasses Mississippi summer night without ever belaboring the idea and even the ragged edges of Davis’ voice aren’t so tattered he is unable to bring the required emotion to bear. “Penitentiary Bound” isn’t free from vocal histrionics, but Davis wisely saves those moments for late in the song rather than front loading the tune with needless dramatics. This pensive acoustic track is a good change of pace this early in the release and hits the mark just as well as its predecessors.
His cover of the venerable “Death Letter”, perhaps made most famous by Son House’s towering interpretation of the standard, rates as one of the album’s indisputable high points. Davis avoids testing his voice on this tune and instead invests the full force of his focus on inhabiting the song as if he wrote it. The interplay between the exceptional guitar work and his vocal creates a dialogue of sorts for the track enhancing its overall impact.
The apocalyptic Sturm and Drang of “It Hurts Me Too” is another peak on the album. Davis goes back to his bucket of blood blues yowl for this tune and it serves the song well – it is a bit of classic blues songwriting that’s wrought with anguish and has dozens upon dozens of covers since first emerging from blues music around mid-century.
He latches onto traditional blues for a final time with the album’s conclusion “Prison Train”. It begins life as an acoustic track, just Davis and his slide guitar work, but the full band joins in at a little past the thirty second mark and transforms the cut into a last barnburner on an album stuffed with such songs. Davis has an obvious affinity for blues music; nothing on Resonator Blues plays forced or inordinately plotted out.