Essential New Music: John Davis’ “Gnawing On The Bone”

Depending on whether you know John Davis from his solo records or his tenure with the Folk Implosion, you’ll either know him as a vocal performer or an artisan of grooves. If you head to the guy’s website or listen to his last record, 2017’s El Pulpo, you’ll find that his command of language endures; he has a lot to say about food, politics, corporate encroachment and the ongoing effort that it takes to be human. But if you listen closely to his records, you’ll find that they are studded with marvelous little guitar moments, licks that jump out, snag your ear and drag you into the songs that they serve. 

Gnawing On The Bone is Davis’ guitar record, but the album’s title also says something about his compositional approach. He’ll play a phrase, then take it from another angle, then layer it and mull it over some more. He can pick out a tune, but the same stop/start dynamics that show up in his songs often win out over melodic elaboration. And while he sticks to acoustic guitar, he uses overdubbing, delays and a good old-fashioned slide to expand its sonic footprint. There’s plenty to chew on here, whether you come at this record motivated by interest in Davis or his instrument.

—Bill Meyer