Stuart Davis: Music for Mortals

Paul Whyte

It was some five or six years ago when a friend of mine convinced me to go see Stuart Davis at Beaner's Central. I was a little apprehensive about the $10 cover charge to see one solo musician, I was used to seeing a variety of bands in a show for a cover that usually never exceeded $5.
The atmosphere of Beaner's is often kind of quiet during solo performances and I remember when I watched the tall, lanky and bald Stuart Davis take the stage. By the time the first song was over, I realized that the cover was indeed well worth it. With each song the energy grew as did the sweat running down his face. It was simply amazing.
I was happy to see the new Stuart Davis CD that arrived on my desk just recently and Davis will be returning to Beaner's Central on Friday, July 6 with a whole new range of material from when I last saw him. His latest album, "Music for Mortals," which was released earlier this year continues his knack of writing catchy yet somehow deep and meaningful songs.
The album starts out with the undeniably rocking "Spit it Out." The lyrics fire around a variety of images, "I've seen all the dungeons in a girl" and "I've seen turtles underneath the world," it's abstract but at the same time it fits and makes sense.
The next track, "Beautiful Place," slides into a catchy yet laid back feel that is somewhat funky yet ambient. Once the chorus kicks in, it's apparent that it's still holding to some really beautiful pop. One of the things I especially is like the breakdown of the instruments after the chorus that picks back up into the second verse.
While the first song had what sounded like real drums , the percussion of the track "Some Love" is either severally modified drum sounds, or it's more likely a drum machine. Although the song has a beautiful almost earthy feel to it, things like the subtle effects on Davis' voice weaves an airy and very pretty song.
The song "Reaper Wonder" definitely brings in digital percussion that has been squashed down to a soft pulse. This song rides a lot on the keys but towards the end a simple arpeggiated guitar riff lets the song off light and wonderfully.
The song "Not Another Lifetime" kicks things back up a little. The xylophone effects mixed with the funky disco feel of this song makes it really bounce in a unique way. There's plenty of sounds accenting the solid bass and vocal melody lines. It should be noted that Stuart isn't afraid to get into his singing and often explores his voice in an entertaining way.
"Bless the Bastards" is another pop/rock number that brings in distorted electric guitars and synths through much of it, but lets off here and there which creates a definite flow to the song.
Songs like "They're Already Here" takes things back in the other direction with more acoustic sounding guitars, but there is plenty of shimmering keys that creates a swirling audio experience. Davis does carefully choose how his songs are constructed from where each verse connects to the chorus to where things build up or slow down to where the instruments all but cut out and it's just his voice. He's released some 15 albums since 1993, so it's fair to say he's spent some time writing songs and recording them in the studio.
The last track "Nicola" has a harp sounding instrument, the song is somewhat brooding but is still beautiful. The instrument arrangements are well done and fit with each other fantastically.
There is no one credited on this album except for Alex Gibson who produced it.  I'm not sure if Davis always plays solo, but that seems to be the case much of the time. It'd be interesting to see how he will bring the tracks of this album to life on stage by himself, but it seems pretty certain if anyone can do it, he probably can. It's totally possible that he did all the tracks on this album on his own.
The album art consists of images of Davis looking through an old stereographic viewer and perhaps what is a steam-punk modified welding mask. It's pretty interesting and artsy.


Paul Whyte

A South Shore native and University of Wisconsin-Superior journalism graduate. Lifelong musician, and former open mic host. Passionate about the music scene and politics.

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