Herald Scotland Review!


Davina & the Vagabonds, Tolbooth, Stirling

Rob Adams
Folk & Jazz critic

The producers of Jools Holland’s annual Hogmanay Hootenanny may wish to pencil in Davina & the Vagabonds for this year’s show right now.

Because aside from the possibility of the estimable Miss Sowers elbowing Jools into next week should he try to share the piano stool with her, these five Minnesota sultans of rhythm ‘n’ swing would be ideal guests. They seem to occupy a time zone that is forever New Year’s Eve, with possible dalliances around Mardi Gras and some long Friday and Saturday nights of the soul.

Their musical specialism is pretty much anything south of the Mason-Dixon line, rendered with spirit, spontaneity and ferocious joie de vivre. Sowers sings with a timbre mostly appropriated from Billie Holiday while giving the piano keys the mother and father of all seeings-to The Vagabonds play like an old-time New Orleans sporting house ensemble, so that slipping a quick, brilliantly articulated snippet of Led Zeppelin’s Heartbreaker into the horn line from Fats Domino’s I’m Walking comes as second nature.

Original songs such as Dirty Little Devil, with its admittedly rather circus-like, elongated calls and responses between Sowers and trumpeter Dan Eikmeier, sit easily alongside Louis Jordan and Chuck Berry monuments and jazz and blues staples including Bill Bailey and St James Infirmary. When Sowers sings Dream a Little Dream of Me, it sounds like she’s learned it from Louis Armstrong. Crisp, swinging drumming and brilliantly nimble slap bass drive the rhythm along irresistibly and trombonist Ben Link joins Eikmeier in improvising lines that remain logical while reaching near burn-your-fingers intensity.

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