Ward Davis – Black Cats and Crows
Black Cats and Crows (drops Nov 20 – Thirty Tigers) is a 14-track with enough originality to keep it interesting. Davis’ vocals are unique, the band’s tight & experienced. While I found the opening cut to be dismissive – a good dual-sounding guitar-driven song that’s been done to death for decades — I expected the “outlaw country rocker” to provide something I’d never heard before or something not heard in a long time.
Fortunately, that came on cut 2 — the title track “Black Cats and Crows.” It starts with a pensive deep note piano & Ward Davis’ gruff voice pained & authoritative. Slowly the song progresses away from the piano & unleashes a switchblade guitar. But it’s Ward’s weather-beaten barn door voice that holds it together.
I’m all about the arrangement – many songs are well written, lyrically & musically but fails when musicians, like race car drivers, vie for a position & try to negotiate the track. I went back to the first cut “Ain’t Gonna Be Today,” & I’m convinced it would be far better showcased with dual acoustic guitars & leave the bombastic 70s approach behind. The lyric is good but in its present state, it has a very hair-band tint to it.
Fiddles & piano open “Threads,” & Ward’s voice is in a durable storytelling mode. This is an excellent slow & sophisticated tune. “Sounds of Chains,” comes on with dark imagery & steady old-fashioned country metal shavings with subdued sharp crunchy leads surrounded by solid drums.
“Get to Work Whiskey,” is refreshing, & embellished with a hard-headed country punch.
The band: Ward (vocals/acoustic guitar/piano), Mandy Schucher & Clint Park (bass), Noah Hungate & Josh Birkhimer (drums), Cody Bennet, Josh Brown & Jim ‘Moose’ Brown (guitars), Steve Hinson (pedal steel), Scott Ian (metal guitar), Tommy Rodgers King & Joe Spivey (fiddles), Carole Rabinowitz (cello), & backup by Pearl Ray Scott, Rick Huckaby & Matt Nolen.
“Book of Matches,” would’ve been a good cover for The Band & Rick Danko if they were still with us. Great song. Performance-wise Davis needs a foil on some – a female singer to emphasize certain lyrics on certain songs — not as a lead, just to dilute, contrast his tone since his voice, good as it is, is not appealing enough over the course of 14 songs. Ward needs that under-the-surface backup singer to decorate the verses on keywords as Nancy Sinatra did with Lee Hazelwood’s gruff voice.
Darker in style is the Blasters with Dave Alvin concept on “Papa and Mama,” that pours out with chilling vibrancy. Davis understands the value of vintage stylizations with polish.
As a songwriter Ward is exceptional. Singers have tapped into his songbook. “Nobody,” “Good to Say Goodbye,” & “Good & Drunk,” are well-written with originality & technique. This is where Ward Davis belongs.
Next time, a lyric insert? The 50-minute CD produced by Jim ‘Moose’ Brown (add’l piano) is available on Amazon. http://warddavismusic.com/