Although he hails from Ohio, on Suthernahia — to be released in August via Broken Jukebox Media — Ben Davis Jr. and his backing band, The Revelry, sound like they were born on the open road. Produced and recorded by Eddie Ashworth and featuring Davis Jr.’s touring band, The Revelry (Erik Miller on drums, Levi Westfall on bass, Ben Ervin on guitar, and Ashworth on mandolin and keyboards), Suthernahia dips its toe in a variety of sounds with a sensibility that feels more thoughtfully considered than scattered.
The full power of a seasoned band hits you on the first notes of “Think I Should,” all electric with a hint of mandolin to keep it country. “Can’t Get Enough” lightens up the music with the natural bounce that mirrors the lyrical content about good loving that never satisfies.
A familiar country train shuffle brings us into “If You Ever Will,” a classic tale of love at first sight in a “hotel bar by the stoplight”. Harmonies on the chorus hint at the fact that she might love him too. Spoiler alert, in the final verse we find out she does. The tales of love found and lost on, or due to, the road and its hazards, backsliding into your addictions for example, continue on “Porchlight.”
“Just Let Me In” takes a mellower turn accented by a sad pedal steel, but continues with the theme of mournful songs of love lost and longing. “Sunday Morning” kicks off with energy more reminiscent of Saturday night. Ben’s still “mourning the fact that you’re not here”, but he’s doing so at the funkiest Sunday service ever with horns ratcheting up the energy with each fill. If you like soul in your country, this track is for you. “Rambling Bones” takes a turn back to country tones while continuing the theme of connection severed due to his rambling bones, “give it a week and I’ll leave here alone” he sings.
The longing in Davis Jr’s voice leaves the listener wondering is this a promise or a warning for the lover he’ll leave behind. “(I’m Doing) Fine Girl” takes a drastic musical turn again towards AM radio early ‘60s pop with guitar tones to match. The grit of earlier tracks is gone replaced by a welcoming good time revelry (pun intended).
“Lineboat Blues” brings the swamp back with some fine harmonica work by David Childers and a hiccupped shuffle that screams ‘welcome to the bayou’. In contrast to the rest of the cuts on the record, Ben seems refreshingly content on the only ‘blues’ in the mix as he sings, “I could complain but you know it ain’t no use.”
“Carly,” a tale of high school prom and first-time lovers, closes the record with a return to the somber highlighted by immediacy of an acoustic guitar and voice alone. As on most of the record, “Carly” tills the soil of perennial longing for the past, for second chances, for what was and what could have been. Fresh off the vine, but as familiar as grandma’s tomato pie, Ben Davis Jr’s Suthernahia will stay with you long after the record’s over.
H. R. Gertner Americana Highways