Be Ready When I Call
Guy Davis is an accomplished blues artist, but also a working actor. Be Ready When I Call showcases and unifies both of those sides, with an album featuring different voices and characters that makes the album feel like a cohesive, one-person stage show. It helps that Davis knows his musical styles. His straight-forward blues tracks are solid, covering everything from solo, Delta acoustic blues, to band-executed rock-outs. Davis takes us through musical history, exploring different styles, but also a variety of lyrical themes.
It's impossible to capture the full journey without going track by track through the album, so instead let's start with "Badonkadonk Train," featuring harmonica, banjo, and acoustic guitar, the song a folk blues that sounds like a cover from the 1950s, and not a Davis original. Lyrically, it's a typical blues of that era: "Got the blues this morning, last me all day long / Need to find me some toast, to spread my jelly on," making for a fun, throwback kind of track.
But a few tracks later, Davis comes in with "Palestine, Oh Palestine," the album's set piece, a folk opus, with mandolins and acoustic guitars playing Middle Eastern melodies, Davis using a dramatic singing voice, the lyrics documenting the complexity around peace in Israel. There's nothing bluesy about the track, but it's beautiful. And the lyrics are as compelling, with Davis exploring the nuances of the issue, rather than coming out with a hot and/or trite take.
While the difference between "Badonkadonk Train" and "Palestine, Oh Palestine" probably shows the extremes of the album, there are also tracks that fit firmly between the two. "Flint River Blues" has a folk sound, like "Badonakadonk Train," but searing lyrics that might are somehow fun and catchy, even as the message, around the crisis with Flint, Michigan's drinking water, is both terrifying and outrageous. When Davis sings the chorus, "If you hear this song, don't drink the water / Keep moving along, don't drink the water," it's hard not to want to sing along with him. It's partially due to the melody, but also due to his voice, where this time he uses a gentle, country twang that doesn't feel threatening. That's also what allows him to make the lyrics so sharp.
Davis is also comfortable in a straight-forward electric blues. His cover of Willie Dixon's "Spoonful" (made famous by Howlin' Wolf), isn't manic, but moves, piano climbing into and out of the song, electric guitar wailing in the background, with Davis using throatier vocals, not trying to mimic Wolf's growl, but rather acknowledging an iconic version of the song. The tune is simple and perfectly executed.
Be Ready When I Call isn't straight blues, but you hear Davis' love and respect for the genre in every track. The joy of the album is in how Davis brings the listener to so many different places without making anyone feel like they've wandered too far from home.