Sitting & Thinking - Blind Gary Davis

Jon Duttweiler toz@IX.NETCOM.COM
Thu Jul 3 07:13:48 EDT 1997


THE REVEREND BLIND GARY DAVIS
HARLEM STREET SINGER
ORIGINAL BLUES CLASSICS  #547-2

One of, if not the, most influential "Piedmont" style blues pickers, Blind
Gary Davis is also one of the few artists who truly integrated sacred and
secular styles of music and seemed to make them one.    Only one other
artist comes to mind in terms of the level of success in integrating these
musical styles, and that is Blind Willie Johnson.  While Davis may have
lacked the sheer naked emotionalism of Johnson's singing, his guitar
playing is every bit as intricate and impressive, if in a different style,
then Johnson's.  Davis' fingerpicking style helped to influence a myriad of
other musicians, including Blind Boy Fuller and John Cephas.  His
popularity in the late fifties and early sixties on the "folk" circuit
helped to influence other artists such as Bob Dylan.

For many, the combination of sacred and "profane" may seem somewhat
contradictory, but in follows a fine traditional among composers of
"popular" sacred music.  Many of Charles Wesley's (one of the founders of
Methodism) hymns were set to the music of popular tavern and drinking
songs. While to term Davis' spiritual songs "gospel" may be confusing to
those who are not familiar with modern gospel music in the tradition of
Georgia Tom Dorsey, Davis certainly helped lay, and build upon, the
foundation of popular sacred music in this century.

This disc, a re-release of a 1960 recording on the Prestige/Bluesville
label, finds Davis alone with his guitar and still at the height of his
talents.  On 12 sides Davis regales his listeners with old time religion
and wonderfully intricate guitar fingerpicking. The sound quality is
excellent and the liner includes the notes from the original release by the
renowned Larry Cohn. Those who are fans probably already have this
recording, those who are not should check this out to see what the fuss was
all about.  Blind Gary Davis, if not one of a kind, was certain one of the
best of 'em!

SAMSON AND DELILAH / LET US GET TOGETHER RIGHT DOWN HERE / I BELONG TO THE
BAND / PURE RELIGION / GREAT CHANGE SINCE I BEEN BORN / DEATH DON'T HAVE NO
MERCY / TWELVE GATES TO THE CITY / GOIN' TO SIT DOWN ON THE BANKS OF THE
RIVER / TRYIN' TO GET HOME / LO, I BE WITH YOU ALWAYS / I AM THE LIGHT OF
THIS WORLD / LORD, I FEEL JUST LIKE GOIN' ON

NY CD Takes

SAMSON AND DELILAH: This song is more often associated with Blind Willie
Johnson (as "If I Had My Way") and I confess to preferring Johnson's full
bore, rough hewed approach to it.  That said, Gary Davis melodic playing
and emotion ladened vocals do the song justice in their own right.  While
already advanced in age at the time of this recording, Davis' guitar
prowess seem in no way diminished.  A very powerful performance.

LET US GET TOGETHER RIGHT DOWN HERE: Davis slows the tempo down here,
though not too much, with this cut.  This cut features more Piedmont style
picking from Davis as well as his distinctive vocals.  The song itself is
an exhortation about not waiting till the "bye and bye", but do what "pure
religion" requires "right down here."

I BELONG TO THE BAND: Perhaps based on the Salvation Army concept of the
"gospel band", a group of players who set up on the street to attract an
audience and preach the gospel, Davis praises God on this cut that he
"belongs to the band."  An even  more moderately paced number then the
previous cut, Davis is again in fine form as he accompanies his rough, but
melodic singing.

PURE RELIGION: There is a distinction between those who "wear" their
religion  their sleeves and those who have a "pure religion."  The
difference, outlined in this song, is those who have it in their hearts and
those who have not had that heart conversion.  Sprightly performed, with
Davis often letting his guitar finish the vocal line, this is another
powerful, as well as entertaining, performance.

GREAT CHANGE SINCE I BEEN BORN: Singing of the change that came from his
conversion, Davis slows the pace down a little more with the deliberate
pacing of this cut.  He alternates strumming and picking on the guitar and
his voice has that field holler quality that gave rise to both spirituals
and blues.  The cut illustrates the intimately personal nature of Davis'
music.

DEATH DON'T HAVE NO MERCY: A deep and dark song, Davis opens up with some
minor key picking and continues it throughout the cut.  The title just
about says it all, as Davis sings of the impartiality and cold heartedness
of death.  It can strike anywhere and anyone without respect to race or
status.  This type of song signifies the ultimate equality of all human
beings, even within a system full of inequities.

TWELVE GATES TO THE CITY: Davis sings of the New Jerusalem as described in
the book of Revelation, said to have twelve gates made out of single
pearls.  His vocals at their most expressive, Davis literally raises
goosebumps with his singing on this cut.  His playing is fleet and often
takes the vocal line.  One of my favorite cuts on the disc.

GOIN' TO SIT DOWN ON THE BANKS OF THE RIVER: After a life full of
hardships, one of the greatest "rewards" to look forward to in the
hereafter was just being able to rest.  The bible describes a river flowing
through the New Jerusalem, and its beside this river that  he will sit,
sings Davis, upon reaching his reward. Uptempo, his playing joyfully
expressing his emotions as he contemplates this happy culmination.

TRYIN' TO GET HOME: Alternately strumming and picking again, this cut is a
little slower paced then the previous one and deals, once again, with the
trials of this life rather than the rewards of the next.  It is here that
the emotion comes through clearly in Davis' singing and playing.  You can
almost feel the trouble as he sings of it "trying to get home."

LO, I BE WITH YOU ALWAYS: Jesus promised his disciples "Lo, I'll be with
you always."  Davis sings of all the circumstances that this takes in his
life as a believer.  More mid-tempo playing, he is again alternating
strumming and picking, both propelling the melody along and providing a
rhythmic background.

I AM THE LIGHT OF THIS WORLD: Another song from the words of Jesus, who
said "you are the light of the world" to his disciples.  Davis sings of
this as a fact, that his life is a light to the world.  Listening to his
singing and playing, its hard to argue with him.  Shine on, Rev. Davis,
shine on!

LORD, I FEEL JUST LIKE GOIN' ON: Though the last cut on the disc, Davis
lets the listener know that, no matter how far the journey's been, he
"feels just like goin' on."  One last mid-tempo number with some incredible
agile picking from Davis to accentuate the message.  His singing once again
will get under your skin, working in perfect harmony with his playing and
with his message!

Reviewed by Jon Duttweiler
Copyright NY CD Blues @1995-1997
All Rights Reserved.
Unauthorized use prohibited.

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