Review: Moot Davis – Man About Town (Highway Kind, 2012)
You can pretty much guess you’re in for a good time when an artist shares the album cover with his Telecaster. Don’t let the modern décor and long tie fool you – this twangy country music would be just as comfortable wearing a bolo as it spins around a honky-tonk floor. Davis is a New Jersey boy, but with time spent in Austin and this Kenny Vaughan-produced third album recorded in Nashville, he’s a lot more Hank than Bruce. Better yet, Vaughan and his Fabulous Superlative cohorts (Paul Martin and Harry Stinson) chip in expert backing alongside Chris Scruggs’ steel and Hank Singer’s fiddle, rocking like the Domino Kings and other great roots bands that came out of Springfield, MO.
Vaughan’s productions balance the hard country twang of telecaster and steel with touches of twelve string and Spanish-flavored guitar. Davis’ voice melds a number of influences, including the disconsolation of Hank Sr., the trill of Big Sandy, and the dramatic balladeering of Dwight Yoakam, Chris Isaak and Raul Malo. The tic-tac guitar and train rhythm of “How Long” are pure Johnny Cash, but Davis sings in a higher register that takes the song in a different direction, and the driving drums and slide guitar of “Queensbury Rules” bring to mind the street-smart 1980s rock ‘n’ roll of the Del-Lords. Davis duets winningly with Elizabeth Cook (who sounds like Kelly Willis here) on “Crazy in Love with You” and brings a honky-tonk croon to “Only You.”
Davis writes of derailed careers, trouble on the road, love, disillusion and broken hearts. The latter takes original turns with the bullfighting imagery of “Fade to Gold,” and the boxing allusions of “Queensbury Rules.” His two murder ballads, “Black & White Picture” and “Memory Lane,” are mysterious and dark. The former hinges on the fatalistic pairing of wedding bands and .44s in a pawnshop display; the latter explores the aftermath’s everlasting prison of memories. Vaughan backs Davis with everything from classic honky-tonk shuffles to spare slide guitar, making this a great showcase for a New Jerseyan who’s songs are more Cumberland than Hudson.