Davina and the Vagabonds are different from the very start. There are no guitars in the group, which consists of Davina Sowers on piano and vocals plus horns, drums, upright bass and even sousaphone and vibraphone. The analog sound on their new CD, Sunshine, is excellent and the acoustic nature of the music adds to the timeless quality.
It’s hard to classify this music. Although the group is from Minneapolis, the sound definitely evokes New Orleans. It has elements of Dixieland jazz, breezy early rock ‘n roll, and blues.
Then there is Sowers’ voice, which reminds me of early blues and cabaret singers like Sippie Wallace, Lena Horne or Eartha Kitt, mixed with a bit of Amy Winehouse.
As for the songs, “Sunshine” evokes early ’60s pop with its cheerful music and lyrics, while “Flow” reminds me strongly of Winehouse. “Fizzle Out” transports the listener to an after-hours jazz club. “Away From Me” is an aching blues ballad, “I Try to Be Good” is a jazzy romp with delightful piano from Sowers. “You Better Start Prayin” and “Red Shoes” let the horn section shine and will have you ready to get out and second line and “Throw It To the Wolves For Love” not only has a great title but it has a great ragtime swing.
In addition to these original tunes, Sunshine includes three fantastic covers. “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water” is pure soul and compares favorably to the version by Aretha Franklin. Sowers does an amazing job on Fats Waller’s “You Must Be Losing Your Mind,” turning it into a smoldering torch song. This is followed by a touching, solo performance by Sowers of Patty Griffith’s “Heavenly Day.”
The CD ends with a bonus track, “Under Lock and Key,” which was the title track of the group’s 2007 album, now out of print.
You will not have heard anything quite like Davina and The Vagabonds. But I believe you’re going to love what you hear.