Album Review: Davina & The Vagabonds’ Sunshine


Would you like to go to a concert and listen to the music of Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong, the singing of Billie Holiday, and the musical style of Tom Waits all wrapped up in one nicely made package? If so, this is your lucky day listening to the superb music of Davina & The Vagabonds (DATV).

This is a band that will take you places where few are going these days. In the era of “show and more show,” this is a band fronted by a great keyboard player with classical ties by the name of Davina Sowers. To make the music even more astounding, she has a talented band that plays to perfection, that make their playing seem effortless. This is truly a band with a sizable following, and a band that is headed straight to the top with a sound that the finest musicians would appreciate. Just finishing a tour in Europe, Davina & The Vagabonds plan to give the world some very good music, show just how good they are, and offer a perfect example with their latest album, Sunshine.

DATV’s opener, “Sunshine,” catches you by surprise. The intro takes you back to 1930’s and 1940’s Voice-O-Graph sound. However, quickly the number turns into an upbeat rapid Jean DuShon’s, “Talk To Me, Talk To Me,” rhythm with even a bit of Lennon’s “Just Like (Starting Over)” keyboard. Here, Davina takes you to one of her mentors with a bit of Billie Holiday and a distinctive ending of the “Chocolate Jesus” sound of Tom Waits.

At times, Davina sings with such a heavy heart she sounds as if she is feeling her own pain as she sings, “Away From Me.” It’s almost as if the music took her man of a lifetime away. This is an astounding piece worth hearing over and over.

Then there is “I Try To Be Good.” This familiar dance tune sounds as if it might have a humorous flair and I loved it. I can’t help but visualize some guy dancing with a rose between his teeth. It is supposed to be a rumba but at times I hear a bit of the tango as well. Definitely, this tune is a change of pace in the album, which offers variety. Sunshine does exactly that. Anyone who loves music, especially a variety of brass, is going to love this number. Being a trumpet player in my early years, I especially love the duet of Daniel Eikmeier and Benjamin Link.

One piece that has a pop/blues aspect to it is “You Better Start Praying.” I can’t help but think that this piece sounds similar to another one of her mentors, Fats Waller. He has made a big impact on her, shaping her early jazz sound. Another piece that reminds me of Waller and even Louis Armstrong is “Red Shoes.” I love this song and I love the line “Lets rock this house tonight.” No question about it, this is a piece that does just that. For you trivia buffs, Davina mentions her Ps and Qs in this song. This is an old English expression dating back to the 1700’s referring to the bartender making sure he measured out the correct amount of pints and quarts of alcohol to their customers. No charge for the history lesson.

As the band continues, it comes close to the end with three numbers written by Eddie Miller, Fats Waller, and Patty Griffin. Davina is firing on all cylinders with Miller’s “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Waters.” This is a song that keeps you moving. I especially like Benjamin Link’s trombone solo. Davina and Benjamin seem to compliment each other, almost as if they are having a conversation musically. Then there is “You Must Be Losing Your Mind” which takes you back to Waller himself. However something that caught my ear in the piece was the percussion of Connor Hammergren. There is a bit of 60s St. Louis Blues sound coming through at times. Regardless, it fits like a nice pair of shoes. At last, there is Griffin’s “Heavenly Day.” According to Griffin, the song is about her dog. Oh well, at least Patty is singing about unconditional love. With regard to Davina, she gives this solo piece its due with just her and the keyboard. It’s a beautiful piece with beautiful words. I love the lines, “There’s a little time we can borrow, forget all our troubles, and these moments so few, all we got is right now… the only thing we got to do is have ourselves a heavenly day.” Those lines convey an important message to many who forget to “stop and smell the roses.”

To complete the album, DATV offers a bonus track, “Under Lock And Key,” a track from their 2007 album that is currently out of print. It provides a flawless conclusion. Sunshine is excellent to say the least, and Davina and the Vagabonds is a band consisting of some very seasoned musicians. It is as if they have gone through a buffet picking and choosing various genres of jazz mostly from the early days of the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s. For this collector of 40’s music, I love hearing the brass and woodwind sounds especially from that time period. Thank God for bands like Davina & the Vagabonds for keeping “Doll House Music” alive and well. No doubt, judging by their tour dates, their music is very popular and well received throughout the United States, as well as Europe. One more thing, if you hear them live, don’t forget to “Feed The Kitty.”

This is Davina & The Vagabonds, and they just gave us some Sunshine.

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