Monday, October 25, 2021

Davy Knowles - What Happens Next

How to avoid repeating yourself.  How to stand out from the herd.  Seems to me these are key questions for many a modern-day blues-rockin’ artist.  Some don’t bother of course, and just keep on keepin’ on, following the same old course.  But others go in search of different angles of attack, looking for new grooves rather than getting stuck in a rut.
In the case of Chicago-based Manxman Davy Knowles and his new album What Happens Next, the result is a focus on songs in differing styles, sometimes retro-sounding to go with the
Davy Knowles gets all sophisticated for the camera
Pic by Timothy M Schmidt
"salvaged vinyl" look of the cover art, but with a few nifty embellishments to deliver a modern twist - drawing on the skills of producer Eric Corne I suspect, who has added similar freshness to the soulful sound of Sugaray Rayford.
Take the opener ‘Light Of The Moon’ for example, or a little later ‘Get Lucky’.  Both tracks carry echoes, however distant, of The Black Keys.  With its stomping backbeat and grinding guitar chords, the first in particular suggests the bluesy neo-Glam Rock vibe of the Keys’ El Camino.  It comes with tweeting keyboard notes, brief and edgy guitar breaks, and a couple of anthemic “Hey! Hey!” interludes, if not quite the grapnel-like hook of, say, ‘Gold On The Ceiling’.  On ‘Get Lucky’, meantime, the verses may be a tad lightweight, but the catchy chorus compensates, heightened by a simple, but effective, bubbling keyboard line.
Knowles has a good rather than outstanding voice, but he uses it with conviction, especially a slowie like the Corne composition ‘Roll Me’.  A bluesy ballad one might say is in John Mayer territory, Knowles delivers it with more character than Mayer could muster, over a foundation of low down, spaced out guitar notes and subtle washes of organ, to which he adds his own restrained and well-judged guitar work.  And he does moody and reflective well too, on the haunted vibe of ‘Devil And The Deep Blue Sea’, with its tinkling piano and most Bonamassa-like slow and epic riff, to which Knowles adds some squeaking slide that turns rather more razor-edged on the outro.  The same is true of the melodic and mellow ‘River’, a simple affair on which Knowles gets increasingly impassioned, underlined by some beautifully complementary guitar licks.
These ballads are the real standouts, rather than poptastic outings like the stuttering ‘Solid Ground’ and sprightly ‘Side Show’, though the latter piques more interest with its fuzzed-up guitar tone, its rubber band bass, and the way the tense, buzzing riff butts up against the relaxed rhythm.
‘Wake Me Up When The Nightmare’s Over’ is strident stuff, and if Knowles could do with summoning up more vocal raunch, it’s still got guts, with crunching guitar chords, walloping drums, surging organ and rocking piano, going out on a burst of taut and wiry guitar.  Then by way of contrast the album closes with the folkie ‘If I Ever Meet My Maker’, sparkling picked guitar the main backing for its sensitively sung, lilting melody.
What Happens Next is a grower.  It’s not a straight-up blues-rock album, and Davy Knowles may not always hit the stylistic targets he’s aiming for, but when he’s good – on those slow numbers in particular – he’s very good indeed.
What Happens Next
 is out now on Provogue Records, and can be ordered here.

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