“DD Review: John Davis – John Davis.”

Score: 8.5/10

At some point Bandcamp needs to really institute the policy that applies to “usernames” — no two can be identical. Anyway, I’m left to gather by all the semi-conclusive evidence on Spotify and Bandy that this is indeed a self-titled debut, from a singer/songwriter in Nashville, who records on four-tracks, and the best song on this album is “Jesus Gonna Build Me a Home.” 

While we’re here, I might as well veer into the next inevitable point, which is that this is, more or less, an ardently Christian album. In my less mature years, this almost certainly would have been enough, in itself, to put me off to this project. And I’d drift along meditating on the general entities of spite and adversity. 

As it stands, today, I’ve somehow been infused with the wherewithal to embrace this stuff as the great music that it is. The genus of influences is almost so basic that it doesn’t even bear mentioning — The Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac, cursorily — but classic stomper “Salvation” does, in general, remind me of The Thrills’ excellent album So Much for the City. That is, it’s defiantly, almost uncomfortably retro in style, but pummeling along with enough purpose and songwriting moxie so as to cloak the unbecoming simplicity in a suit of emotion or oblong heartbreak, more or less. 

The comparison potential with Big Star here is almost whacking me in the face, so I might as well touch on it, to boot. John Davis is a fellow Tennessean of Alex Chilton and that band, and, like Big Star, makes certain references to divinity, with Davis preferring bringing in “Jesus,” in contrast to the former’s “God” fixation. Stylistically, this album is not worlds apart from Big Star by any stretch — kindred elements of median electric guitar and piano pronounce themselves, in both cases, as the primary physical foundation. It’s music, in other words, which many people might hate for its very un-pretentious, easy approach to instrumentation and style, but is also likely to be critically acclaimed for this very reason — the directness and unadorned confidence with which Davis constructs his songs and attacks his subject matter. 

On “Nothing Gets Me down,” we get what plays as a much-needed foray into virtuosity, in the form of a half-minute guitar solo that any true Christian would chastise as prideful and self-indulgent. Just kidding. I doubt they’d have too much of a problem with it, and He**, if they did it would only be a feather in the cap of this stuff, without question. 

Centerpiece “Jesus Gonna Build Me a Home” handles, generally, earthly suffering and the future prospect of getting into heaven, calling to mind our old buddy Jack White, of course. As for this becoming a frequent theme on Dolby Disaster, that would almost make sense in the fact that I’ve tried to avoid being a Bible-thumper so adamantly my whole life, that, by Murphy’s Law, that very motif would emerge as my primary purpose in this life, ultimately. But “Jesus Gonna Build Me a Home” has a way of extolling Christ without being ham-handed, preachy or garrulous, in sharp contrast with the nightmare “The Kind of Heart,” an unpalatable display of piousness so awkward that for a non-Christian like me it could be placed on an episode of Fear Factor

Luckily, things get rocking again on “Have Mercy,” the experience is once again a musical one, instead of being a spiritual one, or whatever, and my mind can race to things like booze and sports, on a good day. Stevie Ray Vaughn seems to have peppered this pot a bit as Davis all of a sudden riffs on bluesy runs and a moderate amount of returns. “Tear Me apart” similarly hovers somewhere around Ted Nugent territory, again, with the genuine, innocent songwriting interface from Davis infusing things with a commendable landscape of irony and originality. 

Somewhere within “Lay Your Burden down,” which creeps in daintily and almost exudes melodramatic sap, until the chorus unfurls with strings and some emphatic vocals from Davis, granting it a solid skeleton, you realize that this is pretty much a concept album about Jesus. With this being the case, it’s bound to make a lot of people uncomfortable, like the me from 15 years ago, for instance. John Barth once said “The grapes are no fewer on a tangled vine.” I’m welcoming the challenge, then, of enjoying an album whose semantics are so at odds with mine. The common ground we share, then, is a musical one, which is my favorite kind, anyway. 


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