12/1/11 REVIEW

Davina and the Vagabonds: Black Cloud

When I first heard Davina and the Vagabonds the only description that popped into my head was “old-timey,” which I use to describe anything too old to be retro and not old enough to be classical. I didn’t know whether it was blues or jazz, whether it was from the ‘20s or ‘40s. So I did some research and found that they represent a healthy blend of all of the above.

But having completed my extensive research* I have to call them a jazz band with their largest influences being swing [traditional swing, not the resurgent ‘90s stuff] and Dixieland. They also have a heavy blues element mostly by way of the piano which also has enough ragtime in it to dip its toe in the ‘20s.

Fans of big brass and fast piano will be pleased with the album but the star of the show is Davina’s voice.  She sings with the power of diva but with a vaudeville playfulness making her performances simultaneously respectable and relatable. I have not yet seen them live but their studio performance paves for great expectations of a larger than life experience.

The Vagabonds don’t deliver an innovative** new genre nor do they offer mastery of a specific sub-genre from long ago. What they offer is a fun energetic smorgasbord of New Orleans music reminiscent of the early twentieth century that will add depth to any music library (particularly collections concentrated [on/with] local or recent original music).

*Two hours of browsing through Wikipedia and Spotify

**A lot of people judge music against a standard of innovation. There’s nothing wrong with that but there’s a lot of great music that doesn’t try to be innovative. Different standards apply to different forms of music based on what they’re going for. In that sense, “reverential” can be seen as a creative opposite to “innovative.” Its creative merit is based not on how it recreates but on how it recaptures and its success is based in large part on its reverence to an existing genre or media. I plan on writing more about how different standards apply to different music later.


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We are looking forward to coming back to Nebraska!

The Heavy Table is a Twin Cities-based magazine passionately telling the stories of food and drink — from roots to table — in the Upper Midwest.

by James Norton on June 17, 2011

Not long after we ran our April 1 exploration of Prince’s fridge, we were received following message from an Atlanta-based publicist:

“I ran across your site on my Facebook page — someone had posted the Prince fridge thing. So cool! Who knew! So we are gearing up to work with a local Minn / St Paul music group — Davina and the Vagabonds. I am hoping you might be interested in checking out her fridge.”

Well, why not? And so we arrived the Frogtown craftsman-style home of Davina Sowers, camera and notebook in tow. She greeted us with a plate of delicious homemade garlic knots that she was unable to eat, thanks to an ongoing Atkins diet (“How are they? How do they taste?” she asked with the keen urgency of the carb-deprived).


We knew Davina’s music before arriving, having caught her band at an art CSA show they played at the Walker. Their rambunctiously soulful sound had helped make the event a smash. “I would say we’re New Orleans juke joint blues / jazz,” says Davina. “A lot of people compare [our sound] to Leon Redbone, or Maria Muldaur.”

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Davina and the Vagabonds is no side project — the group plays more than 300 shows a year, and has been rocking full time for four years in the Twin Cities.

And then, after a quick tour of the pantry (“It’s old school, like original everything. Awesome formica…”), we reach the fridge.

“My old-ass, Jesus’s first refrigerator, refrigerator,” Davina says.

Age aside, it’s really a nice-looking beast of a fridge, capacious and clean. Inside, we find…

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

A Bowl of (Very) Local Eggs

“Those are eggs from my neighbor’s chickens. She has four of them. We’ll kind of trade — I’ll make stuff and take it to her, and she’ll give us eggs.” We look out the window, and, sure enough: we can see the chickens puttering around their little compound.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The Cheese Drawer

“I like my cheese very sharp,” says Davina. “I do gouda, sharp cheddar, white cheddar… I do do mozzarella, which they say leans toward the non-Atkins, but I love fresh mozzarella — I buy it in bulk at Cossetta’s.”

“You sound like a real cheese fan,” I volunteer…

“”When I go to Denny’s, when we’re traveling, I’ll ask the server: ‘Could I have a three-cheese omelet but with a shitload of cheese?’ That’s my way of ordering. They’ll say: ‘Well, how much?’ And I’ll say: ‘As much as you can give me.’ But they never do. They never give me enough.”

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Plenty of Mustard

“Mustards are low fat, mustards are no carb,” says Davina. “I love horseradish mustard — I smother my burgers and my hot dogs with that, and even shrimp. Shrimp taste really good with horseradish mustard. Cocktail sauce is really high in sugar, so if I want that nose-running effect, I go with the mustard.”

Smart Water

“I like to drink a lot of water,” says Davina. “When I’m on stage, I chug immense amounts of water. I have two water bottles I take with me, but when I’m on the go I don’t necessarily have time to refill them, so I just grab [the smart water] and go. I don’t drink enough water.”

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Zevia Ginger Ale

“It’s stevia,” she says. “It’s zero calorie. But, honestly, that six-pack has been in there for months.”

Miscellaneous Notes

“The only thing I can think of about my fridge other than my food is that if I lose something, it’s the first place I look. I multitask because of the kids and my business, and cleaning (I’m a crazy Type A), so instead of putting the shrimp away, I’ll put away my glasses.”

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

What’s in Davina’s Fridge?