Davina and the Vagabonds’ Sugar Drops

By Brian Rock

Davina and the Vagabonds deliver a sweet and sumptuous feast for the ears on their fourth album, Sugar Drops. Lead singer (also songwriter and pianist) Davina Sowers is possessed of a voice far older than herself. She brilliantly channels the playful, yet elegant jazz of Ella Fitzgerald, the sophisticated blues of Billie Holliday and the tortured R&B of Amy Winehouse. With pitch perfect precision, she infuses each note with emotion and nuance.

In “Devil Horns” for instance, Davina shows off her Ella Fitzgerald chops by scatting and using staccato vocal phrasing and playful lyrics to insinuate more than explain how the devil came to have horns. Against an infernally hot Dixieland/Salsa rhythm and a scorching “Ring of Fire” horn section, Sowers conflates the devil’s horns with musical horns to tell a convoluted tale of temptation and triumph. In the end, she sings, “I thought he’d be more creative. But he offered me some fruit. I said ‘I’m not Eve, you’re gonna have to leave!’ And finally gave him the boot!” If the devil could tempt half as well as Davina sings, we would all be in trouble.

Davina’s Great American Songbook worthy voice continues to dazzle on the barrelhouse blues of “No Matter Where We Are,” the Dr. John inspired Jazz of “Bone Collection,” the Mardi Gras flavored joie de vivre of “Magic Kisses,” and the contemporary R&B of “Little Miss Sunshine.”

When she slows the tempo to bluesy ballads, Sowers reveals her vulnerable side. On “Sugar Drops,” you feel her Amy Winehouse – yearning for what can never be, despair as she sings, “You knew I would lose all control. How could I be such a fool? You spit me out when you spiked my soul.” The lush orchestral arrangement of “Mr. Big Talker,” gives a cinematic feel to a tale of self-centered betrayal. In her most intimate moment, Davina confronts what happens when heartbreak turns into depression in “Deep End.” With insightful lyrics, Davina reveals that the deep end is both the darkest depth of our suffering and the unfathomable Spirit that helps us through those times.

And behind this amazing voice is an equally impressive band. The Vagabonds are no musical hobos. They are a virtual thesaurus of American musical styles. From Scott Joplin to Ben Harper, they traverse over one hundred years of musical styles with deft virtuosity. You’ll hear everything from clarinet to slide guitar to wood blocks to trombones to piano. Leaning more on the under-utilized Jazz branches of Americana, they create fresh, vibrant arrangements that feel timeless.

Davina and The Vagabonds are one of the most distinctive, sonically enjoyable bands in Americana. And Sugar Drops is one of the must-own albums of the year.  |  buy  |  fb

Brian Rock

Brian Rock

Brian was raised gypsy style, moving every other year until well after college. As friendships proved to be temporary, Brian found a constant companion in music, wearing the grooves off Beatles and Dylan albums before moving on to Lyle Lovett and Dwight Yokam. Living so often in flux, he has come to value music and lyrics of lasting quality. Not moved by trends or fashion, he is drawn to timeless lyrics and soulful rhythms. Although now settled down, Brian still expresses his gypsy spirit through his writing. He has co-written songs with musician friends he’s met along the way, including several contributions to the 2012 ICMA Album of the Year, Family Album. Brian also writes children’s books and poems, including the Children’s Book Council featured title, The Deductive Detective.
Brian Rock

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