It’s funny how one gets to hear about new artists: I heard about Davy Knowles in a Porsche dealership on the Isle of Man when I was visiting the island as part of my work (couldn’t and still can’t afford a Porsche) and during a post, business chat the subject turned to music and my love of blues and rock and I was told, in-depth, about a local guitarist of some stature and skill who was in a band called Back Door Slam…interest sufficiently piqued, I bought the then newly released Roll Away and then a couple of years later the even better Coming Up For Air, then The Outsider, 2016’s Three Miles From Avalon and an EP the following year. (His “Kitchen Session” on his website are brilliant too, especially his interpretation of Gallagher’s Out On The Western Plains.) At last, he’s back, and on a major label with Provogue for his new release called What Happens Next…now, there isn’t a question mark after the title so I am guessing it is a statement of what is about to occur, rather than a query.
The twelve songs are not guitar hero flashiness, they are all about the song but still contain an ample sufficiency of clever rhythm work and some stunning solos that are woven into the songs and not the other way around. An idea as to what you are about to hear can be gleaned from the influences that merge the blues of yesterday, today and tomorrow: The Black Keys, Fantastic Negrito, Gary Clark Jr., Muddy Waters, Junior Kimbrough, and R.L. Burnside and Davy is a much a part of that future while paying due attention to the past.
Opening with, Light Of The Moon, has a great, chugging riff and, somehow, I keep thinking Groundhogs and the Tony McPhee nuances he always brought to the table…his vocals are still strong too as he tells us “there’s no absolution” over the riff with some clever synthy sounds in the background before we get a couple of short, burning guitar sections and some “hey, heys”: an irresistible song from the drum intro to the fade.
Heartbreak Or Nothing stays with simple and catchy backing to the verses and very catchy choruses as the keys stay below in the mix (apart from subtle synth parps) but no less effective…this would have been mainstream fodder in the 80s but has no real solo, which inevitably disappoints someone like me. Roll Me shows Davy’s soul influences as he pours it, and his, into the blues structure of his guitar patterns…the keys proved a lovely wash behind it all and the guitar section is pure blues with a fabulous tone and carefully spaced and picked notes…a full solo would have been nice.
Get Lucky is back to bluesy rock with key/guitar harmony providing the riff and more catchiness and the descending keyboard patterns are great too while the drums and bass nail it all down brilliantly. The vibrato effects on the (short) solo is probably amp driven and it works really well.
Next up is a slow blues with a piano intro hinting at Back Street Crawler: Devil & The Deep Blue Sea has the guitar running amp vibrato and tremolo with sparse chords adding atmosphere. There is a bit of short backwards guitar (which still sounds good) and some delectable slide in the solo making this a true statement piece and showing the versatility of Davy’s writing, playing and singing in one package…love it! One & The Same has echoes of his Back Door Slam days with its blues rockiness tempered by a nigh on glam basic riff: a brilliant bass line has to be listened to too during the choruses, and the first solo is inventive and slide driven beautifully with multi-tracking and the second is talking with the keys…both way too short.
Solid Ground is funky blues via a Purple tint (Burn era) with a soul feel blending in too. The catchiness index remains high and the backwards guitar bridge is neat, but where is the solo? A piano dramatically introduces River in a black and white film score sort of way as Davy’s vocals draw you in. Again there are some genius guitar passages that my guitar mad mind wanted to last at least an hour longer…ah well. Side Show is a brilliant duo performance with bass and guitar in harmony to great effect…and, bliss! there is even a sort of bass solo that sounds brilliant as the whole becomes an unbelievably clever melange of rock, blues and soul.
Hell To Pay is what Sly Stone would sound like if he did the blues…simple chords, great bass line, keys and nice hit work as we are told “there’ll be hell to pay darling, with a broken heart that burns like fire.” OK, I’d have preferred if it leaned more into the blues, but the Rhodes is great and the guitar passage, with only a few well-chosen notes, should have been way longer but preserves its ‘listenability’ and the outro is worth the wait as the keys and guitar take turns.
The penultimate track, Wake Me Up When The Nightmare Is Over, is back to bluesy rock with a riff that’s slightly reminiscent of the Foos’ Wheels come Down but, with the piano and Hammond input, it is still all original. The keyboard figures in the outro are genius and the guitar phrases join into the fade.
The final track brings the acoustic heart-rending ballad that is If I Ever Meet My Maker. It has a lilt that belies the tale of a desire to meet up with someone who has passed away and he’ll be asking to see this person again should Davy ever meet his maker…as “two have become three” and he will “try and bring her up like you did me” suggests it is about his father. The guitar tone is a delight and the picked chords resonate well with the words.
OK, I will always be wanting more solos and Davy has eschewed these to preserve the depth and character of the songs so, whilst disappointed to a degree, there is still a hell of a lot of excellent musicianship to appreciate on this powerful album.
Bluesdoodles rating: 4 Doodle Paws – a wonderful blues album, with a few other influences, blended seamlessly into the songs: and it the songs that this album is about, so despite the lack of proper or extended solos, it is a very powerful album and yet another step in the evolution of a skilled writer, singer and player.
Light Of The Moon
Heartbreak Or Nothing
Devil & The Deep Blue Sea
One & The Same
Hell To Pay has a distinct soul feel to it
Wake Me Up When The Nightmare Is Over
If I Ever Meet My Maker
(wraps it up with Davy playing two different acoustic guitars, I think, as he mourns the loss of someone dear)
Davy Knowles: guitar, vocals
Andrew Toombs: keyboards
Tod Bowers: bass
Jeremy Cunningham: drums
(I’m cheating a bit with the iTunes run on: it did serve rock (Dawnwalker) and glam from Daybreakk! but I just had to move on to the relatively unknown De Ford Bailey with the harmonica instrumental Up Country Blues…genius, especially when you consider it was recorded in 1927.)