Brad Davis,
This World Ain't No Child
(FGM, 2004)

A good-to-better singer and acoustic guitar player, Brad Davis clothes a dozen of his own songs, all but two of them co-writes, in bluegrass and quasi-bluegrass garb. He also produces, with assistance from Dave Sinko, and steps out of the studio with a charmingly crisp, uncluttered sound for himself and his band.

Then, alas, the rub: the songs themselves, or the bulk of them anyway. Everything around them -- voice, harmonies, instruments, mix -- works to positive effect. What follows, however, may not be a problem for at least some potential listeners, but the rest should be warned: Davis's writing on This World Ain't No Child tends to the drearily formulaic, as defined by flavorless country-pop melodies and factory-issue lyrics with all the emotional depth of greeting-card verse. Consider the titles: "Ain't That Just Like Love," "Love You Don't Know," "You & I," "True Love," "Falling" -- well, you get the idea, if you're still awake.

Davis has largely -- albeit not quite wholly -- abandoned the more adventurous Americana-style approach of I'm Not Gonna Let My Blues Bring Me Down and ratcheted down his ambitions. Davis, one suspects, is pitching songs to big-time Nashville producers in search of "product" as opposed to, say, songs. At times one wonders if the bluegrass settings aren't there simply to render the material tolerable to persons who have come for actual music, defined as something that exists on its own terms. Bluegrass trappings excised, most of these effusions would be entirely at home in CMT videos and on CDs by "artists" with soap-opera looks and names.

Happily, four cuts have more than empty calories to offer. "Shadows" (written with Joel Weaver), where his pal Billy Bob Thornton -- yes, the actor, director, occasional musician -- is lead vocalist, could be an outtake from Let My Blues. (Maybe it is; Thornton did figure prominently on that recording.) The title piece (with Billy Montanna) laments the sorry state of humankind and the planet it terrifies. "Holy River" (by Davis alone) is a bluegrass gospel number out of the old school. The tuneful instrumental "LaCrosse" takes its title, I presume, from the lovely college town in southwestern Wisconsin. If so, that should be "La Crosse."

by Jerome Clark
28 April 2007

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