JOHN DAVIS - John Davis (self released)
Some of you folks may remember Mr. John Davis as the frontman for Knoxville TN's Superdrag, who blended American rock & roll with sounds of the British Invasion and a little bit of country twang mixed in for good measure. four full-lengths, a handfull of EP's, and gallons and gallons of Jack Daniel's later, John Davis was at the end of his rope.
On what he now refers to as his own "trip down the Road To Damascus", Davis was driving down Tennessee's Interstate 40 making his way to get fitted for a tuxedo for his wedding. Suddenly, he was overcome with a feeling he can only describe as "getting hit with a cannonball".
"I knew at that moment the Lord was dealing with me like He never had before," Davis says. "Before I had a chance to think about what I was doing, I started to pray, asking God to tell me something. I kept saying it over and over. I didn't hear a voice; I felt a voice," he says. "And I knew in that instant the hole inside of me would never be filled with a bottle of booze. I was tired of running away. I submitted to Him, and I quit drinking, right then and there."
Thin, pale, and jaundiced, his family doctor affirmed that Davis had reached the point of liver toxicity.
Superdrag's fourth and final album, "Last Call for Vitriol", was released in 2002, and Superdrag carried on a typically ambitious touring schedule in support of the record. But something had changed: "On those last tours, there were nights I'd look at the crowd, and think 'I don't belong here.' These kids would show up at 5pm when we loaded in, and they were already hammered. Then I'd look out during the show that night and see them throwing beer and stumbling around. I felt like the ringleader of something I was no longer a part of. I questioned everything, and I reached a point where the whole thing felt dishonest to me."
After the last tour culminated with one final show and a double-live CD at The Paradise in Boston, Superdrag took a hiatus. John Davis' personal goal was to find work as a solo artist by the end of 2003, or settle for session work or a "straight job" outside of the music industry. Nashville producer R. S. Field, who Davis had met in 2001, offered him session work for Allison Moorer, where he played bass, acoustic guitar, organ, piano, and some lead guitar on her album "The Duel", as well as a brief touring stint on rhythm guitar in her band.
The money, Davis says, "bought me time to get my own thing off the ground."
The "thing" John Davis came up with is a 12-song masterpiece on which he wrote every song and played every instrument except for sleigh bells, maracas, tambourines, and a string arrangement.
Now I know what a lot of you I-94 Bar regulars are thinking... "A temperance record? Are they serious?" Well no, it's not
exactly a temperance record, and yeah, we're serious. While a lot of the music is the same old John Davis, song titles
like "I Hear Your Voice", "Salvation", "Jesus Gonna Build Me A Home", and "Lay Your Burden Down" show that this is going to be a quick departure from the usual 20-something self-loathing via whiskey bottle, pot pipe and electric guitar that Davis spent most of the 1990's perfecting. In fact, the songs that aren't about God and Davis' redemption are about his beautiful wife (and mother to his newborn son), Wendy.
Davis knew it would be tough to bring a lot of Superdrag fans along for the ride of his newfound spirituality, and in fact caught a lot of flak from them. His response to that is his new song "Too Far Out". As he sings to those disaffected fans, "If the supernatural seems a little out there, maybe there's a thing or two somebody ought to say to you. This same God who spared an instant listening to my cries, opening my disembodied eyes, yonder where the Spirit never dies, said to paddle it in, son, you're too far out, don't get too far out. You win some, you lose some. You can live without. Then your life winds out. Are you in or out? Thank you Jesus."
Ten of the songs are about Christ's new plan for Davis, and two exceptionally beautiful songs that are about Wendy, John's wife.\ Written in the vein of George Harrison's work, "Me And My Girl", is a nice, poppy, love song; sweet but without the horrible sacharin flavor. "Stained Glass Window" is has a great cadance, chord progression and clever lyrics. The rest of the album deals with the pain that comes from a life of sin, and the joy of redemption. A fair number of the songs are based around a simple piano arrangement, with countrified gospel vocals and simple guitars to round out the mix. John Davis' classic, Beatle-esque background vocals, in my opinion one of his strongest musical gifts, are added like salt and pepper to various songs.
The real rockers of the 12 tracks are "Nothing Gets Me Down" "Have Mercy" and "Too Far Out". Songs like "I Hear Your Voice", "The Kind Of Heart", and "Stained Glass Window" feature John at his piano for a bluesy, gospel feel, with limited guitars backing up the simple melodies. Others, such as "Salvation" and "Me And My Girl" are more poppy; more accessible. The closing track, "Do You Know How Much You've Been Loved" has certifiable Nashville twang, with Davis breaking out the pedal steel guitars under lines like: "Your senses deceive you / but Christ can retrieve you".
This is a great record for longtime fans of John Davis' music, in addition to people who are looking for a little country & blues with a higher meaning, fans of contemporary Christian music and people who just like to get down to a rockin' gospel sound.
- Andy Demers
1/2 (In the words of John Davis, "Much Respect", from this Rock Soldier.)
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