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Album Review: D. Davis, 'Hopeful'


Published March 20, 2019 at 10:00 a.m.

D. Davis, Hopeful
  • D. Davis, Hopeful

(Self-released, CD, digital)

D. Davis is an unassuming fellow. Modest almost to a fault, he's the kind of guy who doesn't stand out in a crowd, even though he's a good bet to be among the most talented people in any room. Davis is affable and generous, a thoughtful, pleasant man who's easy to like. While he's not exactly a wallflower, he tends to avoid the spotlight.

Owing in part to his understated style, the Montpelier-based guitarist tends to be most comfortable within groups such as cosmic Americana outfit Red Hot Juba and roots-soul combo the Larkspurs, or backing any number of other local singers and players. To fully appreciate Davis' considerable abilities, you have to pay attention. As his recently released, mostly instrumental solo album Hopeful reveals, the effort will be rewarded.

Hopeful was recorded in 2012 but only unveiled this year. Considering Davis' humility and ambivalence towards attention, that he would sit on the album for seven years is at least somewhat unsurprising. It's a nuanced work that succeeds in the same manner Davis typically does in his various endeavors: finely tuned, low-key grace that favors substance over flash.

Almost without exception, the 11 tracks that comprise Hopeful ripple with a serene fluidity, both from song to song and within each composition. Davis will never blow the listener away with monster riffs, though he's likely capable of doing so. Instead, he crafts soothing, impressionistic suites that gradually evoke emotion and build intrigue.

"Homage," for example, begins the record on a series of eddying acoustic guitar arpeggios that seem to echo and swirl around each other. As ringing harmonic pops ebb, Davis' slippery composition flows around again and finds purchase in those repeated opening themes.

The following cut, "Hope for the Flowers," functions similarly but with slight gradations in form. Here, Davis employs a more whimsical approach, compelling the listener with pretty, blooming melodies.

Davis is a master of guitar fundamentals. Because he's able to rely on crystalline tone and immaculate precision, his acoustic compositions sing despite their relative simplicity. Much like the best albums of acoustic guitarist and Windham Hill Records founder Will Ackerman, it's just as rewarding to get lost in the calming strains of Hopeful as it is to dissect it on its academic merits.

From the moonlit tones of "Nightowl" to the cozy rustic twang of "Being Home," from the laid-back groove of "Fountain of Youth" to the rolling majesty of "Thunder and Lightning," and from the cheery lilt of "Meadowmeare" to the optimistic benediction that is the closing title track — the only song on which Davis sings — Hopeful is delicate, moving and masterful. Here's hoping we hear more before another seven years passes.

Hopeful is available at Catch Davis at his Wine Down Wednesday residency every week at Sweet Melissa's in Montpelier.