Resonator Blues is the third solo album from longtime Babylon A.D. guitarist and contributing songwriter Derek Davis. It’s a twelve song effort immersed in blues, slide guitar, harmonica, and doesn’t restrict itself to just an electrified interpretation of the style. Instead, Derek Davis pushes a wide variety of blues sounds – acoustic, electric, some songs with harmonica, some without – and adds in a handful of songs focusing more on straight forward guitar work eschewing the slide guitar. There is a blues rock influence heard on some of the tracks, but the primary item on Davis’ menu remains blues as you might imagine hearing in Chicago on a hot summer night during Muddy Waters’ heyday or pure Delta blues with tangible soulfulness. This is an album with heart and punch working together from the first and demonstrates Davis’ enormous skill.
The opening song and title track “Resonator Blues” serves notice that Davis is a performer you must take seriously. The music and vocals demand it. His slide guitar work is straight out of the Deep South and alternates between some moments of real flash and other moments where he leans much more on invoking pure emotion from the song and listener alike. There are numerous peaks and climaxes built into the song that sweep you into its next section and the rhythm section gives his guitar work a solid foundation to blaze over.
“Mississippi Mud” has a less straight on attack and manipulates qualities of light and shade to achieve its effects. The drumming, once again, is an important part of what makes this song cook, but the exchanges between the slide guitar and Davis’ vocals are even more crucial to its success. For a California boy, he does a five star job of getting his hands dirty and pouring every ounce of emotion into this venerable style. “Penitentiary Bound” is a very different affair. It’s the first time on Resonator Blues that Davis puts the slide down and embraces a folky style of acoustic guitar, but blues is still rife throughout the music and especially the vocal and subject matter.
“Red Hot Lover”, however, has Davis firmly back in blues territory. It reminds me a bit of the classic English blues band Savoy Brown at their grittiest, particularly with legendary vocalist Dave Walker on the mic, but this is ultimately Davis’ tune and reflects the same assertive personality we’ve heard thus far from the album. The inclusion of harmonica brings a new dimension to the music that is appreciated. “It Hurts Me Too” is an everything and the kitchen sink blues jam, but never overwrought or threatening to bulldoze listeners. It has a glorious live sound, it sounds like he cut the track with other musicians rather than recording the parts separately and mixing them later. The quality is apparent through the album but much more pronounced here.
The album’s last track, “Prison Train” reminds me a little of the earlier “Mississippi Mud” in the way it incorporates varied textures into the song. It starts off on acoustic footing, but Davis soon transforms it into a ferociously uptempo number that ends the release on an appropriate note. Seldom will you hear an album, in any genre, sound so complete and fully realized. Derek Davis’ Resonator Blues has fire and soul in equal measure and deserves consideration as one of the best blues albums to come out in many years.