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Davina and the Vagabonds - Black Cloud

Roustabout Records

14 tracks/44:21

Davina Sowers and her so-called group of Vagabonds are quite the unique band. Led by Sowers and her quite unique vocal style that reminds me of a mix of a white girl doing minstrel shows mixed with Broadway musicals and a little bit of the late Amy Winehouse (but not depressing). She can sing her heart out and does so, making one grip at their seat or laugh depending on how she wants to make the listener feel. She and the band are from Minneapolis; the band is comprised of Darren Sterud on trombone, Dan Ekmeer on trumpet, Michael Carvale on upright bass and Connor McRae on drums; this is quite the retro act. All original cuts here, written by Davina, and I must say they were all quite good!

The band open and close the CD with their "Vagabond Stomp", a New Orleans-styled instrumental marching song (if a marching song can include piano, that is). It sets the tone at the start and closes the set with this incredibly fun band's seminal stuff. I was really set to listen to this CD when I heard the opener and it did not disappoint me. The title track is the second track and it introduces the listener to Davina and her singing style (after a short and sweet brassy intro, that is). She's quite brassy herself, strutting and confident, impressing the listener with her moxie and voice. Her piano (and occasional ukulele strumming) are also excellent; she is a classically trained pianist and her talents are obvious. By the time the "Black Could" has passed by, I was really smitten by her and the band. I also recommend that you check out the trombone work on this cut by Sterud; impressive stuff!

"Lipstick and Chrome" has a nice honky tonk piano solo and a little call and response with the band that is quite old school, with the trombone ripping it throughout as drawn out punctuation marks. The last vocal piece on the CD is "Carry Him With Me", with Davina bearing her heart and soul in this song of faith and inspiration. "River" is another great song, with Davina asking for forgiveness from her lover. Effective lyrics and inspired singing abound as she begs for the river to wash her pains away. "Let's Bring It Back" features a throbbing, wrenching vocal with trombone coming in for a drawn out chorus end that leads into a down and dirty solo by Sterud.

Some of the songs are right out of the minstrel shows or vaudeville; imagine retro-Broadway numbers. "Disappears", "Sugar Moon", "Pushpin" and "Crosseyed" are great examples- memorable numbers that one could picture being done on the big stage. Whether the tempo is taken down or burning hot, this gal and he band can deliver the goods. The brass is hot and the backline has the beat down, Davina belts out the songs and they as a band are ever so tightly together. They never sound forced or out of synch- this is a band ready to be noticed!

Blues traditionalists who expect to hear straight up Delta or Chicago Blues might be surprised- there is only one true 12 bar track here, but there are 13 other tasteful and interesting songs done in the early blues and jazz traditions, sans guitar (well, ok, Davina interjects her ukulele just a bit, but no guitar). If you want to swing and stomp and have a good time, this CD is for you! I really enjoyed it and hope to catch Davina and the band live soon! It shows us what the blues used to be and where perhaps they are going back to in quite an original way.

Reviewer  Steve Jones is secretary of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and work with their Blues In The Schools program.

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