When Lonesome Highway started, it was to write about acts that were making great music but not exactly travelling in the mainstream. Moot Davis is exactly the kind of artist that fits the bill. His latest album, his fourth if you don’t count those he sold at gigs while playing on Nashville’s Lower Broadway back in the day, is the best yet. Davis’ first two were produced with Dwight Yoakam producer Pete Anderson and you can see what attracted Anderson to Davis. Davis has a great sense of direction, an understanding of where his music has come from and where he wants to take it; then there are the songs, considered and meaningful, and, not least, there’s the voice, which has both character and the capacity to deliver the essential message of those songs.
Davis’s last album Man About Town was produced by another guitarist/producer. This time it was Kenny Vaughan and it was a step forward for Davis. Goin’ in Hot is again helmed by Vaughan and they have built on their relationship. The press release tells us that the album is more roadhouse rock than hardcore honky-tonk. This is true, but is a distinction that may have little relevance for those who already know and love Davis’ music and the influences he draws from to create something genuinely rewarding. It may not exactly be pure Texas honky-tonk and it sure ain't Nashville lite but it does impresses on many levels.
Moot Davis has come through a relationship break-up that was the impetus for several of these songs. What you won’t find is the kind of “tail gate and tan lines” songs currently doing the rounds in Music Row. No, here we have material more substantial and stylistic. The album opens with the title song and immediately sets the pace and tone with an up-tempo beat and some incisive guitar, honking brass and solid beat group harmonies. Food Stamps is about surviving hard times in these modern times and it could have come from the canon of Merle Haggard. It highlights some fine playing from pedal steel guitarist Gary Morse.
The heart of this album is Davis’s road band of lead guitarist Bill Corvino, bassist Michael Massimino and drummer Joey Mekler, a tight and inventive combo that has worked these songs up on the road. They’re joined on the album by producer Vaughan, Gary Morse and keyboardist Micah Hulscher plus Chris West on brass and Luella Wood on harmony vocals who vary the mood, tempos and aural textures to deliver a very satisfying soundscape.
Made for Blood has a groove that is greasy and swampy. Used to Call It Love, a song co-written with Helen V Estepp, has a more laid back feel and an emotional vocal about a love falling apart through different expectations of what it means to both parties. The song is built around steel and guitar that emphasise the sense of heartache while being set against an appealing musical setting that contrasts with the down emotions. It would easily fit on a classic Dwight Yoakam album. The second co-write Love Hangover, this time with Robert Mahaney, is a tale of how a love hangover hurts more that any drink induced variation. It’s another uptempo kicker that is hard to resist.
The real rock ’n’ roll heart here is Ragman’s Roll with piano and slide guitar to the fore. The dobro in Wanna Go Back underscore the lonesome feel of the song’s sad tale of a man who has treated his family to a world of hurt and how he regrets his actions ands wants to go back to a better time. Davis gives a striking vocal performance on this, another album highlight. Yet another song filled with personal pain is Hurtin’ For Real, a mid-paced balled where Davis shares the vocals with upcoming star Nikki Lane. It again has a sound that reminds you of his links to classic country and roots music while creating something immediately distinctive.
Things get a little spacier and reach for the outer limits on the closing track, 25 Lights which has producer Kenny Vaughan adding electric guitar, tone generator and theremin to create an otherworldly atmosphere to this tale of alien abduction, not a usual topic for today’s contemporary country performers. It does show the sense of openness this album’s makers take in delivering something hot and tasty.
What this proves is that, along with the likes of Sturgill Simpson, Nikki Lane, Chuck Mead and many others, there is a healthy exploration of the real heart of country music out on the fringes in the independent sector and there’s where you need to look to find the music that makes you realise why you like this stuff in the first place. It’s not strictly retro rather it’s a living, breathing and feeling form that the powers-that-be have tried to kill. Well it appears that they haven’t succeeded!