Album review: Nick Jonah Davis – When the Sun Came

Source: album artwork

Words by Grey Malkin

Derbyshire based Nick Jonah Davis has become increasingly renowned and respected, both for his live work (with the likes of James Blackshaw, Jozef  Van Wissem and Alasdair Roberts), as well as appearances on albums by folk artists Sharron Kraus and Jim Ghedi. Most significantly, his previous four albums (and several EPs) of instrumental solo guitar pieces, particularly 2015’s richly textured and inspired ‘House of Dragons’ have drawn an ever increasingly wide audience and critical appreciation. A joint album with fellow six string traveller Chris Joynes,‘Split Electric’, further cemented his reputation for his subtle and visionary blend of  John Fahey style American Primitivism, ethereal slide guitar and Bert Jansch flavoured British folk. New long player ‘When the Sun Came’ builds upon this renown and also takes his rapturous and deeply evocative, crystalline playing a step yet further. 

Opening with a euphoric wave of slide guitar and glistening raindrop like finger picking, ‘When the Sun Came’ is a thing of beauty, a photograph or snapshot capturing a hazy memory of a summer’s day. Uplifting and welcoming in its shimmering warmth it amply illustrates Davis’ dexterity yet is not flashy, overly fanciful or performative. Rather, it builds mood, atmosphere and delivers and emotional heft, a gut feeling rather than just an intellectual virtuosity. Likewise, ‘Goodfellow of the Riverside’, which offers a darker, more pensive and haunted landscape, with its mournful slide and gentle melancholic refrains. There are shadows as there is sunlight, Davis feels equally at home in both. ‘Ramsons’ is by turn a widescreen, road trip of countrified slide and picking that builds to a heart melting crescendo. By rights this should be the cinematic soundtrack to a similarly wide-open, shot in the desert piece of celluloid. As should ‘Like a Teardrop’, with its eastern inflections and ominous drones that hint at a sitar flecked Incredible String Band duetting with Blixa Bargeld. ‘The Muckle Master’ brings us back into the light with a reverbed and lightly distorted Jansch-like piece of bluesy folk that feels like it could have been unearthed on a jewel of a long lost 1960s album pressed by Transatlantic or Takoma Records; it has an effortless, unforced timeless quality.

‘The Peacock Dance’ is a more wistful affair that has an air of the baroque, the cascading and ringing guitar notes emulating a harpsichord at times, recalling the work of medieval forays of John Renbourn. ‘Whistle on Woolf’ merges a delicate and breathy acoustic piece with shimmering effects, chirrups and forest sounds that adds a cosmiche coating, more Popol Vuh or Tangerine Dream than anything new age, whilst ‘Delta Suey’ is a foot stomping slide driven wonder, a Robbie Basho-esque slice of exhilarating sound. ‘Pebbles from the Brook’s harmonium drones and yearning arpeggios again feel truly like a soundtrack to a visionary or auteur film, something Wim Wenders or Werner Herzog might conjure. Finally, ‘All Them Symbols’ closes the album, a slow build of struck strings and vulnerable melody, hinting at something trapped or trying to break free, again emphasising the emotion and heart that runs throughout Davis music. Sometimes instrumental guitar work can be surface and skill and little beneath, a showcase for ability alone. This is not the case here; ‘When the Sun Comes’ is all about the feeling; both the song’s and yours.

Highly recommended but do not stop here, delve into Davis’ back catalogue and immerse yourself in the riches and diamonds that await. If we have been mooting Nick’s music as a possible soundtrack, why not a personal one?

Available on vinyl and download from the 30th October from Thread Recordings.

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