Davina & the Vagabonds Bring Their New Spin on Classic Soul and New Orleans Blues to Midtown on Thursday Night
People just can’t get enough of oldschool soul music, can they? One of the upper Midwest’s most original acts in that feverishly growing demimonde is Twin Cities band Davina & the Vagabonds, who swing into town with a couple of sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM this Thursday, Nov 5 at B.B. King’s; cover is $15. Their latest album, Sunshine, is streaming at Bandcamp. Pianist/frontwoman Davina Sowers is a connoisseur of retro soul, swing and blues sounds from across the decades, blending all those styles into a distinctive, terse, fresh mashup that’s all her own.
The album’s bouncy title track brings to mind a young Diana Ross, if she’d been in Cincinnati, or Chicago instead of Detroit. Then the horns – trumpeter Dan Eikmeier and trombonist Ben Link – join in on the pulsing, vintage Memphis-flavored Flow: “I know, it gets kinda scary,” Sowers intones, breathy and gritty but optimistic all the same. The she slows things down with Fizzle Out and its blend of late Beatles, trip-hop and New Orleans second-line jauntiness: “The night sky seems to make it better,” she insists.
Bassist Andrew Burns and drummer Connor McRae Hammergren give the gorgeously sad minor-key soul-blues ballad Away From Me a lowlit slink beneath Sowers’ plaintive, pensive vocals. Then the band rises to a noir Vegas cha-cha with I Try To Be Good, fueled by Sowers’ eerily marionettish piano. After that, she teams with the horns for an animatedly swinging groove that contrasts with the ominous lyrics of Better Start Prayin’, a cautionary tale about a real femme fatale.
Red Shoes – an original, not the Elvis Costello classic – blends purposeful Fats Waller stride and early Ella Fitzgerald flair. Throw It to the Wolves for Love takes an irresistibly funny, innuendo-imbued detour into hokum blues and then dixieland, followed by a counterintuitively rousing second-line take of the old blues standard I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water.
The album’s most epic track is You Must Be Losing Your Mind, a launching pad for Sowers’ nimble blues runs, Link’s foghorn trombone and Eikmeier’s hair-raising muted trumpet before the rhythm section takes one of the most suspenseful bass-and-drum interludes ever committed to wax (or the digital equivalent). After the low-key, dreamy Rhodes-and-vocals ballad Heavenly Day, the album comes full circle with the joyously pouncing New Orleans soul number Under Lock and Key. Lots of expert playing, dynamically soulful vocals and a general good time to look forward to Thursday just west of Times Square.
And fans of more noirish sounds should check out the band’s darker, hi-de-ho-oriented 2011 album Black Cloud.