Davis Coen - Magnolia Land
Walk an imaginary line between Carolina-men Jimbo Mathis and Pink Anderson, trace it through Holly Springs, Mississippi, ending somewhere on the ragged, beer drenched, and smoke laden carpet your band used to practice on in the garage - welcome to 'Magnolia Land,' Davis Coen's 6th and latest blues release.
Known primarily for his finger-style guitar work in the veins of Mississippi John Hurt., Libba Cotton, and Fred McDowell, Coen diverges for some out of the pocket blues a la North Mississippi hill country, Muscle Shoals, Chicago, and his own strange Carolina brew.
'Magnolia Land' was recorded at the unjustifiably little known Delta Recording Studio in Como, Mississippi (Jimbo Mathis) whose treasured, old-assed ribbon mics have recorded everyone from Elvis Costello to Afrissippi to George Brock to virtually every relative of the late Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside. And let me tell you, the production is probably my favorite part of this album - it's so warm and so live that you'd swear you could hear the 6L6's buzzing through your high-fi.
The album opens with a very Kimbrough-esque "Tired and Lonesome," a reworking of Coen's earlier "Ain't Even got a Rock to Lay My Head On." Dark and full-bodied, this hill country blues is rounded out with some tasteful Hammond organ work by Lance Ashley. "Change in the Weather," however, doesn't quite do it for me. One might begrudgingly call it southern soul, something that Eddie Hinton might have pulled off, but here the arrangement is loose and it's a little outside of Coen's vocal range.
"Anna Ann," the third track, is arguably one of the strongest on this disc - a danceable, slide-driven Coen original that might imaginatively have once been on R.L. Burnside's setlist (if he ever used one). Coen dips in the Elmore James bag for the traditional "Country Girl Blues," although the slide work is a little more reminiscient of Kenny Brown.
"Nothing to Hold on to" reminds me of "Change in the Weather" - there's a lot of instrumentation, particularly drums and guitar, that could have left more room for Coen's voice, although his Guy Davis vocal stylings don't really work here anyway. What I do like about this song (credited to T. Coen, by the way) is the soulful progression and the theme imparted in some of the best lyrics on the album: "I reached out for success, my spirt burned/Everybody wants me now I've learned./I'll never go to New York looking for some city job/The concrete world is corrupt/And the business man is hard/You're the only one who cares if this boy works or if he starves/That's why I love you."
"Goin' Away Baby" is a pretty stripped and straightforward cover of the Jimmy Rogers version. Except with more reverb. And "Natchez Burning" is less a straight cover and more a fairly standard Chicago shuffle.
One of the coolest, most well-tracked, and best arranged songs on here is "Wrong Side of Town." If you liked "Busker's Blues" off of Coen's earlier 'Ill Disposition' you'll like this one.
All in all, Coen assembles a veritable A-team of Mississippians north of Vicksburg including Jimbo Mathis himself, Afrissippi's Kinney Kimbrough (Junior's son) and Justin Showah, Olga on washboard, Lance Ashley, and Darren Dortin for an album that is decidedly unique and laudably old-school. There is a loose, sort of disjointedness that you find throughout a lot of these songs, sometimes working in Coen's favor and sometimes not. But there's plenty of soul and an undeniable honesty coming from someone who is pushing the boundaries just a bit farther. If you're familiar with Davis Coen, this is worth checking out if for no other reason than it's different. If you're not familiar with Davis Coen, this is worth checking out if for no other reason than it's different.
Reviewer Reid Doughten is a Delaware native and Blacksburg, Virginia transplant where he plays in a Roanoke-based blues band and tries to avoid working for a living.