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Boo Boo Davis - Undercover Blues

Black and Tan Records

12 tracks/50:23

Born in the heart of the Mississippi delta, singer Boo Boo Davis ended up in the St. Louis area, where he played his style of down-home blues in local clubs for several decades. For the last ten years, he has been touring regularly in Europe and recording four previous releases for the Black & Tan Records. He punctuates his rough vocals with short blasts from his harmonica.

The liner notes state that Davis and his band – John Gerritse on drums and Jan Mittendorp on guitar – spent six hours in a studio in Switzerland, turning their ideas into the twelve tracks featured on his latest project. Recorded live in the studio, the disc serves as an accurate reflection of the band’s live performances. Gerritse consistently supplies a strong beat while Mittendorp sticks to playing rhythm guitar, often with an enhanced, fat tone that fills in the space behind Davis’s vocals, which are often buried in the mix, making tough to decipher what he is singing.

The problem is that at least half of the cuts end up sounding like demo tracks rather than completed songs. On tracks like “Turkey Walk” and “Got the Feeling”, Davis simply chants the title line or short lyric phrases instead of a more developed lyrical progression that relates a story. The faster boogie shuffle on “Shoot the Dice” paired with Davis sounding like Howlin’ Wolf is not enough to overcome another case of feeble lyrics. The title cut is stronger, with an otherworldly guitar sound and upper register harp tones from Davis.

Things get more interesting when the group slows the pace and slips into a more soulful sound. “Don’t Worry Baby” has a convincing vocal as Davis tries to reassure his lover. The loping rhythm of “Xmas Blues” underscores Davis’s plaintive description of his longing to be with his family at Christmas. Davis’s brooding performance on “Number One” is another highlight with Mittendorp also turning in a standout performance. On the final track, Davis delivers a musical sermon in celebration of his faith that once again is short-circuited by the constant repetition of the title phrase, “Thank You, Dave”. Once the music ends, Davis continues to testify like a storefront preacher with the holy-ghost feeling.

The best moments on this disc show what might have been if Boo Boo Davis and his band had taken the time to pt together a stronger batch of tunes. The stripped-down instrumental line-up doesn’t allow much room for error. While Davis will not dazzle anyone with his harp playing, his singing can really capture your attention. But there isn’t enough material that hits that level of performance to make this disc an essential purchase.

Reviewer Mark Thompson is president of the Crossroads Blues Society in Rockford. IL. He has been listening to music of all kinds for fifty years. The first concert he attended was in Chicago with The Mothers of Invention and Cream. Life has never been the same.

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