Charles “CD” Davis
24 Hour Blues (Blues House Records)
By Brian Arsenault
If I told you Eddy Arnold’s torch song “You Don’t Know Me,” done as a big band blues number on Charles Davis’ 24 Hour Blues is but one of this album’s delights, would you buy it? You should.
In this dickless era of the Justins and the emasculating Taylor Twitt, there is still music with balls. There is still the blues. And Davis — former guitarist for the late Calvin Owens — has assembled a remarkable ensemble. An ensemble, including two great chick singers, to show that the blues and real Eros are not dead yet.
If you missed this album, as I did when it first appeared in late 2011, be grateful that it’s being “reserviced” as Davis gains recognition. Ironically, he’s been nominated for a “best new blues artist” award. I mean he played with Owens’ band for a decade, but recognition is merited.
This album has a big band blues core, but it also echoes with road house small blues combos, classic acoustic blues, even big jazz bands. On the aforementioned “You Don’t Know Me,” the horn section does some backing of the vocal like it was an Ellington piece.
Davis plays in several styles, all clean as Tide washed. A personal favorite is his acoustic blues guitar work on “Lonely Man” while Jabo (the Prince of Texas Zydeco) sings an echo of Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee and Muddy. And is that a twelve string Davis is playing?
He saves his truly electric blues masterpiece for last on “Blues for My Father” where he starts with a true slow hand. Restraint, holding back, building tension, Anthony Sapp’s magic bass underneath. Building, building. Neal Cassidy would have lost his mind.
Then soaring, stratospheric speed but always, always so controlled. Not many can do that. I think the organ comes in near the end because the guitar burst into flames. At least any more and it might have killed.
And the vocals. Oh Lord, we have winners throughout.
On “Minor Thing,” Roberta Donnay is as jazzy as she is with a trumpet underneath like a ‘50s noir film. Tasty guitar solo by Davis. Earlier she raises the album’s temperature on the classic “That’s How I Learned to Sing the Blues.”
Speaking of heat, Trudy Lynn’s “It’s Tight Like That” reminds us that not everything on a blues album is G Rated, or PG, or even R maybe. The band sings choruses sort of like — but not exactly like — a ‘40s big band backing the lead singer. But this is no “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” here. She is intemperate, thank goodness. Or badness.
The guys are good too. Already mentioned Jabo, who also shines on “Help Me Baby,” a juke joint jump, and “Old Fashioned Woman,” which slides along like an otter down a chute. Rue Davis provides some smooth vocals to complement the deep, growly Jabo here and takes the lead on others. Rue’s the guy who redefines how you’ll ever think about “You Don’t Know Me” again.
And Charles Davis is all over this album. He wrote or co-wrote several of the songs, arranged the album, even put it out on his own label. His guitar playing alone would have been enough, as well as his clear affection for the big band blues of which Owens was perhaps the greatest. The Owens band is well represented here.
Even better, Davis doesn’t feel the need to always put himself out front. He complements, doesn’t dominate, the vocals. He lets horns lead when they should, singly and in concert. There’s even a great violin lead or two.
There’s too often this tendency to talk of the blues in the past. Too many “last of the great bluesmen” obituaries as we try to pay tribute to the originators. “CD” on this CD shows us that the blues present is about as good as anything can be.
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