You Donít Know My Mind
Red House 113
Guy Davis isnít a legendary bluesman, but heís played one on TV. Or onstage, actually, where he portrayed the King of the Delta Blues Singers himself in an off-Broadway production of Robert Johnson: Trick the Devil.
For years, Davis has moved comfortably between the worlds of music and theater, and as you might expect, his experiences in each area of endeavor have bolstered his abilities in the other: The blues and its rich history fueled such acclaimed pieces as Davisí one-man show In Bed with the Blues: The Adventures of Fishy Waters and Two Hah Hahs and a Homeboy, which he performed in 1995 with his parents, actors Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee.
In turn, Davisí skills as an actor have added an appealing theatricality to his concerts, where he tells compelling stories and seems to inhabit the spirits of the bluesman whose traditional stylings he draws upon.
But Davis is no prisoner of the past. Though heís one of the young musicians currently calling attention to pre-war acoustic-style blues ó check out his brilliant debut, Call Down the Thunder, and the live Stomp Down Rider ó Davis seems as interested in furthering the tradition as he is in preserving it.
You Donít Know My Mind feels more contemporary in its full-band arrangements and the topicality of songs such as the passionate plea for the homeless, "Best I Can." His approach is appealingly varied on the album, cooking on the choogliní "Grandmaís Tea House," offering a bit of friendly advice on the front-porch stomp "If You Love Somebody" and incorporating gospel music into "You Remembered My Name." Davisí gruff voice doesnít have much range, but itís quite capable of conveying a complex mix of emotions, as on the dark, contemplative title track.
A first-rate instrumentalist ó check his fingerpicking on the smoking little ditty "Dorothy Is Harlem Bound" ó Davis shows he is still at his best when he performs solo. He also goes it alone on the restless, circular "If I Could Fly Like an Eagle," one of the albumís most simple, yet most intense songs.
The only misstep here is "Home Cooked Meal," on which Davisí growl isnít quite authoritative enough to winningly convey lines like "I love to eat her muffins/They look so nice and round/I love to eat her puddiní/It feels good going down." We might buy that sort of single-entendre stuff from Howliní Wolf, but not Davis. Still, you canít blame a guy for trying, can you?
ó Daniel Durchholz