NICK JONAH DAVIS: HOUSE OF DRAGONS (2015, LANCASHIRE & SOMERSET)
Review by Brian Werstler. Originally published at North Country Primitive in May 2015
I was already familiar with Nottingham’s Nick Jonah Davis, so the arrival of a new album was enough cause for excitement that I had little choice but to order my copy as soon as it was available. House of Dragons follows on from a series of self-released Bandcamp downloads, compilation appearances and 2011’s acclaimed Of Time and Tides on Tompkins Square. This is Davis’ first release on Lancashire & Somerset, and the LP is neatly packaged, with the label’s customary attention to detail.
First impressions were good - House of Dragons is an album that made me want to pick up the guitar. It’s always a positive sign when the music inspires us to do some playing of our own. Davis effortlessly combines the American Primitive style of Fahey and Basho with the English influences of Jansch, Drake, and Renbourn. This particular blend of influences is a definite plus and one that I would suggest that not enough guitarists are exploring. The album begins with the title track, setting the pace for the next nine songs: tempo changes; an ebb-and-flow quality; double-thumbing bass lines, and such nice melodies. Throughout, Davis is very careful to not drown out the melody with pounding bass.
The fourth track, Double Peace, is a unexpected departure from the norm. The liner notes indicate that Davis attached crocodile clips to two strings, placed a toy zither on the soundboard, and played Weissenborn and zither with a dulcimer hammer. Where other artists tend to work in soundscapes as an alternative sound, Davis sticks to a guitar piece. Double Peace provides a real sense of progression to the album, with string buzzing adding welcome texture.
The next piece, Zanzibar Chai, is a slow and pretty song for Weissenborn slide guitar, with a cymbal in the background helping to set the mood. The atmosphere changes again on When the Fish Fly, which features a noticeably lower tuning (it’s worth noting that a tuning guide is included in the liner notes for those of you who like to play along at home). Where some players can have the unfortunate habit of leaving the bottom end a blurry mess, Davis does an excellent job of controlling the low notes. The LP closer, The Illumination of Nelson Fortune, is another departure, in that it is the only song on the album to feature collaborators - Davis is joined by C Joynes on banjo and balaphon and Karl Townsend on didgeridoo. The track is slow, moody and well paced, leaving this listener wanting more.
This is a quality outing both in terms of composition and performance and stands as one of the best albums I’ve heard recently. The production, by exploratory English guitarist, Cam Deas, is sympathetic and unobtrusive. The two pieces that are a little off the beaten track are standouts, but the song selection and pacing are consistently satisfying throughout. If you enjoyed Nick Jonah Davis’ previous offerings, you will be very pleased with this release, especially as his compositions continue to get stronger.
Davis has delivered another stunning LP of wordless tales. As the vinyl edition is limited to a mere 250 copies, I’d suggest you pick one up immediately. Enjoy!