Vices and Virtues - press
Offbeat Magazine, May 2017
Debbie Davis has always been a musical polymath, with a wide-open definition of what qualifies as a jazz song: Material on this live disc ranges from Duke Ellington to the Beatles (twice) to Tom Lehrer to Alex McMurray, which covers 80 years and a few different worlds. What the songs all have in common is vivid characters in the middle of loving, sinning or both—just what a resourceful singer needs to get her voice around.
Davis has usually worked in bigger groups, but here she’s joined by Josh Paxton, a pianist whose instincts are every bit as flexible as her voice. Give them a gorgeous tune (Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz”) and they’ll do some graceful variations; give them a lusty one (“Lulu’s Back in Town”) and they’ll cavort with it. Their version of “Lady Madonna” is one good example: Before the tune, Davis jokingly tries to rattle Paxton by noting that Fats Domino had covered it with James Booker on keys. And they wind up expanding on both familiar versions: During the first solo, Paxton plays it Paul McCartney–style while Davis sings the horn line; but for the second one, he takes off on some wild, Booker-esque invention. There is in fact no piano solo on the Domino/Booker version, so here Paxton shows what Booker might have played.
Paxton can also match Davis’ sense of mischief: They approach Tom Lehrer’s “Masochism Tango” as a steamy torch song, which of course makes it funnier. But the best track here is also the biggest surprise, Amy Winehouse’s “Love Is a Losing Game.” The song was written to be a heartbreaker—and of course, the original singer was no slouch herself—and they get the mood and the atmosphere just right, making this a performance for sad romantics everywhere.
This is the real deal – a concert performance in the intimate recital hall on the third floor of the U.S. Mint by the magnificent duet of vocalist Debbie Davis and pianist Josh Paxton.
The audience crackled with expectation when a broadly-smiling Davis emerged from the wings with her long blond hair flowing down over an elegant low cut black dress. Paxton took his place at the grand piano across the stage and played the intro to “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” When Davis belts one out like this, the feeling is like the joy of a sudden sunburst on a cloudy day. Her voice envelops the whole room with warmth, spilling over into another flag-waver, “Lulu’s Back In Town,” with a supercharged, ragtime-inflected solo from Paxton.
Davis is full of surprises, and she reminds the audience “We never think of ourselves as being in one genre.” Indeed, the duo proceeds to mine jazz, rock, R&B, blues, comedy and classics from the American song book by writers as varied as Duke Ellington, Hoagy Carmichael, Alex McMurray, Paul McCartney, Amy Winehouse, Tom Lehrer, Irving Berlin, and Stevie Wonder.
After her rousing opening Davis took everybody’s breath away with “Caravan,” a spectacular vocal that began sotto voce and gradually built up to the fireworks display of a final chorus. Over the course of the evening Davis sang of love longed for and love lost, evoked exotic dreamscapes and whispered moments of romantic bliss. Paxton toured the pianistic waterfront, showcasing his dexterous two-handed attack. One of his highlight moments was a version of “Lady Madonna,” the Paul McCartney song written in homage to Fats Domino which Domino subsequently recorded with James Booker playing piano.
“The role of James Booker playing Paul McCartney playing Fats Domino playing Paul McMcCartney will be played by Josh Paxton,” David deadpanned.
After two decades together Davis and Paxton fit together like peas and carrots, and while they have the sympatico that lies at the heart of any long-term successful partnership, they also leave you with the sense that you’ve heard two distinct and extraordinary solo statements.
* WWOZ 90.7 New Music Spotlight April 2017-
Vocalist Debbie Davis and pianist Josh Paxton team up together to release their newest live album Vices and Virtues – a live record. After over 20 years of collaboration, Vices and Virtues marks their solo debut as an actual duo. Recorded live on March 4 at the U.S. Mint, this live recording captures the "spontaneity, intimacy, and dynamic range" of the two musicians as they soar through a selection of standards mixed with the jazzy renditions of popular songs. Overall, this recording is successful in capturing the intimacy and proficiency of these musicians and is a great representation of their musical prowess.
The performance begins with a solid version of 'On the Sunny Side of the Street,' which immediately provides the listener with something pleasant as the piano bounces along to Davis' rich, soulful voice. Paxton is just getting started with 'Lulu’s Back In Town,' a Fats Waller tune, and tears apart this piano solo after her powerful voice swells and artfully handles the high-paced lyrical phrasing. While some tracks are full of energy, the duo also is capable of intimate moments, particularly on the track 'It’s Not the Years, It’s the Miles.' Davis sings Alex McMurray’s song of introspection and looking back on life beautifully, and combined with Paxton’s piano, the placement in the set of this song is a good dynamic shift overall, before the duo jumps into some more energetic songs like 'When I’m 64' and 'Lady Madonna.'
The live recording is an excellent representation of Debbie Davis’ powerful and developed vocal expertise along with Josh Paxton’s ability to glide around the piano. These artists breathe new life into these songs and highlight their own skill by the ease in which they shift through the different styles of these songs. Debbie Davis and Josh Paxton’s debut record as a duo will have you dancing and singing along for a well-spent 90 minutes.
Vices and Virtues – a live record is available on CD and mp3 from their website, the Louisiana Music Factory, CDBaby, and Amazon. They'll be performing together at the Louisiana Music Factory on May 1 at 1:30p as part of the store's free in-store series during Jazz Fest.
Linger 'til Dawn - Reviews
New Orleans Advocate-
Instead, it was the result of a surprise recording session, arranged for wealthy tourists.
As one of the busiest vocalists on Frenchmen Street and one-third of the Pfister Sisters, Davis was selected to be someone’s quintessentially New Orleans experience. She certainly qualifies.
In addition to The Pfister Sisters and her own group, she is also part of Paul Sanchez and The Rolling Road Show, the collection of the city’s female vocalists who perform as The New Orleans Nightingales, and The Gloryoskis, a trio she formed with folk singer Myshkin and cellist Helen Gillet.
Multiple groups make it possible for her to play more often, stitch together a meaningful income and explore the breadth of her musical interests.
The Gloryoskis, for example, allow Davis to consider songwriters she otherwise might pass on because they don’t fit the band’s format. When the three met to decide what to play at Jazz Fest this year, they gave up the idea of doing a Dolly Parton song because there were so many to choose from they couldn’t figure out what to do, she said.
“Elvis Costello — he was hard to pick a song from, too,” she said.
She last recorded an album in 2012 when she released the album, “It’s Not the Years, It’s the Miles.”
She wasn’t in a hurry for another one when producer Mark Bingham called to let her know that people with money were paying to be present for a “New Orleans experience” — a recording session, and that the studio time was hers if she wanted it.
She checked with her band — guitarist Alex McMurray, sousaphone player Matt Perrine, and pianist Joshua Paxton — and took it.
“In six hours, we recorded 13 songs,” Davis said. “And had lunch.”
Like many musicians who play on Frenchmen Street, Davis has performed with many musicians and a lot of bands, but after playing with The Mesmerizers for more than a year now, she’s reluctant to play with others any more than necessary.
“They are now feeling what I want before I tell them, which is refreshing,” Davis said. “And frankly, the fewer people in the mix, the more I can pay them. And whatever I pay will never be enough.”
For the impromptu session, Davis selected songs that were already established parts of the band’s set, some of which are well known blues and jazz compositions, but she also includes The Kinks’ “Sunny Afternoon” and “After Hours” by The Velvet Underground. It’s tempting to assume that it was a song Davis added to the set after its songwriter, Lou Reed, died last October, but that wasn’t the case.
“It’s been in the set for years,” she said. She didn’t want to hurry another Velvets song into the set after he passed away, but now she’s starting to think about whether another might be a good idea. “I guess it has been long enough now that I can add another Velvets song to the set and it won’t look like chasing an ambulance.”
She also covered Led Zeppelin’s reggae exercise, “D’yer Maker,” which posed some challenges. “It asked me to sing a C full-voiced in tune four times, which is something I don’t often put myself through,” Davis said.
Because the song is definitely a rock ’n’ roll song, it made slightly different demands on her as a singer, but Davis sang in a classic rock cover band in New Jersey before she moved to New Orleans in 1997, so she knew how to perform it.
“I was doing musical theater at the same time that I was doing the classic rock band, and I applied so much of what I was doing in the theater to the classic rock stuff to make it singable a few times a week.”
The album ends with her version of the jazz standard, “I Cover the Waterfront.” On it, Davis accompanies herself on the ukelele. She plays the instrument on much of the album, largely because “it’s a very accessible instrument. It’s small, it’s portable, and it makes a very pleasant sound. It’s easy to learn how to play.”
With the band, she uses it largely as a textural element for the high, strummed, rhythmic element that it adds, but she does occasionally play solo voice and ukelele sets.
She keeps those short though, because it also presents some limitations. With only four strings, some chords can’t be fully formed, and “if you do voice and ukelele, all the songs are two to three minutes long.”
Davis thinks the short time she had to record “Linger ’Til Dawn” worked to her advantage. If she’d have had more time, “I’d have made more mistakes,” she said.
“Having a bottom line and and a time line leaves very little ... wiggle room for you to go do something in the name of creativity that just winds up being a waste of time.”
Where Y'at Magazine-
Debbie Davis and the Mesmerizers’ Linger Till Dawn is a thirteen track album that takes you into what a set at Three Muses sounds like. Davis, who supplies the main vocals and plays the ukulele, is the unquestioned leader of the band, and is backed up by a formidable group of musicians. Alex McMurray supplies the guitar riffs, while Matt Perrine is on sousaphone, and Josh Paxton is on the piano. The album was recorded at Piety Street Recording Studios and was mixed by Mark Bingham. Davis starts off the album with the up-tempo tracks “Make Me a Present of You” and “I Wanna Be Like You,” the latter being a strong rendition of a track that has become part of the Frenchmen Street canon. Davis, who has been playing with each of the band members for a long time, has stripped down songs with each of them, letting each player accentuate her and their own strengths. In “Winin Boy Blues,” Davis croons as Josh Paxton’s piano provides the heartbeat, the duo making a powerful song together. In the old hit “Sunny Afternoon,” McMurray supplies a nice guitar solo while Debbie knocks the vocals out of the park. In “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” Davis sings with partner Matt Perrine, who supplies the heartbeat of the song with his sousaphone, and, in the Beatles cover of “If I Fell,” Davis plays her ukulele as McMurray plays guitar; the duo harmonizes together to make one of the strongpoints of the album. The album ends showing off the versatility of the album as the second-to-last track is Led Zeppelin’s “D’yer Maker” where each member of the band’s presence can be felt. The last track, “I Cover the Waterfront,” is a soft intimate track, getting back to the roots of Debbie and her gin-powered ukulele.
When she takes the stage at Three Muses or d.b.a., one hand cocked saucily on her waist, the other brandishing a cocktail glass, she holds court with the authority of a Peggy Lee.
Her resonant, brassy voice immediately grabs the listener but she sustains that attention through the sheer force of her personality. Davis has been working in a supporting role for years as part of the Pfister Sisters, Paul Sanchez’s Rolling Road Show, Tom McDermott, and the cast of Nine Lives, but she is just coming into her own as a headline attraction.
Linger Til Dawn is only her second solo effort and the first with her dedicated band, which supports her like a fancy bustier. Pianist Joshua Paxton, guitarist Alex McMurray, and tuba master Matt Perrine build a lighter-than-air foil for Davis’ sturdy pipes, a great ensemble sound that features ingeniously crafted solos but, for the most part, pays close attention to its supporting role.
The balance of this arrangement makes for a superb set of jazz and pop standards, a universalist approach to songbook style that avoids classification as nostalgia peddling or period-recreation music. Davis sings American songbook classics like “Teach Me Tonight,” “Skylark” and “I Cover the Waterfront” as if they were just written for her; throws in a sassy rendition of the Kinks sing-along “Sunny Afternoon”; calls attention to her appreciation of Cass Elliot on “Dream a Little Dream of Me”; and plies a gorgeous duet with McMurray on the Lennon/McCartney ballad “If I Fell.”
She also plays an effective ukulele as part of the band mix, heard to best effect here on the surprising take on Led Zeppelin’s “D’yer Maker.” Her breadth of influences extends to a sultry rendition of Jelly Roll Morton’s “Winin’ Boy Blues,” Little Milton’s soulful “Grits Ain’t Groceries” and a soaring version of the gospel classic “All God’s Children Got Rhythm.”
This album marks one of the last sessions cut at Piety Street with Mark Bingham and you can practically feel the warmth that surrounded the whole event.
Times Picayune & NOLA.com-
- Alison Fensterstock
"There's a company in New Orleans whose business is to appeal to a high-end clientele, who want to have a New Orleans experience other people don't get," she explained. "It's obscenely exclusive."
One of the experiences offered, for example, she said, was a private meal at a John Besh restaurant, served by the chef himself. Another was the chance to watch a New Orleans musician record — that's where Davis came in.
"They had a deal with Mark Bingham to buy studio time for a day and pick from a short list of musicians, based on their availability," she said. "It had been a couple of years (since she'd agreed to be on the list) and I'd forgotten about it. Then Mark called and said, 'What are you doing on Nov. 4?'"
Davis and her regular band, freshly named the Mesmerizers for the purpose of the recording — guitarist Alex McMurray, husband and sousaphone/bass player Matt Perrine, and pianist Josh Paxton — suddenly had a free day at Piety Street Recording.
Davis has a big, lush and wryly sultry voice, infused with intelligence and wit; the well-rehearsed Mesmerizers are a perfect setting for that gem. After logging so many dozens of hours as a live ensemble, they work together like surefooted dance partners, making the musical twirls and dips look easy.
"I'd been working with the same guys for years, and we had a bunch of songs ready to go," she said. The combination knew what worked well, and what crowd-pleasers might sell best on CD at the edge of the stage during set breaks. No song got more than two takes. There was no time, she said, to overthink the process.
"It's really exactly what we do on the bandstand," she said. "It's very close to a live record."
The exercise in efficiency that was the "Linger 'Til Dawn" session must have contributed to the recording's playful sense of freshness; every cut is surefooted, but none sounds overworked. It's there as well that Davis' skill and sensibility as an interpreter comes in. The baker's dozen songs that the Mesmerizers chose for the album split the difference between American songbook classics, vintage jazz and soul ("I Cover the Waterfront," "Dream a Little Dream of Me," Jelly Roll Morton's "Winin' Boy Blues," Little Milton's "Grits Ain't Groceries") but also arrangements of less-expected rock and pop: the Velvet Underground's "After Hours," the Kinks' "Sunny Afternoon," the Beatles' "If I Fell" and Led Zeppelin's "D'yer Maker."
Those kinds of choices and what's done with them, for a jazz vocalist, are what separate the true songbirds from the parrots. Davis, spanning a hundred years of pop music, does so ably and with a sharp understanding of the bones of a song.
"Standards, the songs that are a part of the American songbook, are just pop tunes that are now considered jazz — when they were popular, jazz was the pop idiom," she said. "'After Hours' is as traditional a jazz song as Irving Berlin ever wrote.
"It's only when you take it out of context that you realize that, and it suddenly becomes a very universal song."
Appearing with the Mesmerizers, the retro vocal trio the Pfister Sisters, Ingrid Lucia's New Orleans Nightingales Revue, Paul Sanchez's Rolling Road Show, Sophie Lee, Banu Gibson, Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes and the Gloryoskis (with Myshkin and Helen Gillet) Debbie Davis performs many, many times during Jazz Fest 2014, on the Fair Grounds and off. Visit debbiedavismusic.com/calendar to catch up with her.
It's Not the Years, It's The Miles - Reviews
Davis, who also plays a mean ukulele, sings with a big, bluesy voice that soars over tunes like Paul Sanchez’s “Mexico” as if it might ascend into the stratosphere, alighting onto the extended ends of each line she interprets. On “Mama Goes Where Papa Goes,” she performs with a dollop of theatricality and a sense that if nobody were listening, she might breathe twice the power into her voice, like a driver testing the upper limits of the speedometer on an open road. —Jennifer O'dell, Downbeat Magazine
After years of singing with everyone from All That to the Pfister Sisters, Debbie Davis has partnered with Threadhead Records to release her first solo album. The project offers great diversity in song choices and contributions from local musicians. Davis' background is in opera and musical theater, but she can belt out brassy blues like "Mama Goes Where Papa Goes" and slink to low-register coyness on the Beatles' "Things We Said Today." But she excels when she sings tunes composed by local songwriters. She delivers deadpan ruefulness in the humorous couplets of Alex McMurray's title track and quiet longing in the '60s pop of Paul Sanchez's "Don't Be Sure." Mark Bingham's "Two Crested Caracaras" features an emotional tone with subtle restraint in an atmospheric arrangement. Just as the tracks veer toward the too tasteful, Davis takes on the self-loathing regret of Amy Winehouse's "You Know I'm No Good," complete with sousaphone, Latin percussion and acid-tinged guitar. She stashes that tune near the end where it segues into a piano duet with Bobby Lounge on the old blues/gospel standard "Trouble In Mind." Lounge's over-the-top stylings push Davis, which raises the energy level and results in a stirring rendition. Bassist Matt Perrine, drummer Carlo Nuccio and percussionist Anthony Cuccia lay down a variety of supple grooves and swinging rhythms. Violinist Matt Rhody, trumpeters Duke Heitger and David Boswell, and pianists Jon Cleary and Tom McDermott also add polished and passionate support. This is undoubtedly Debbie Davis' show, however, and her wide stylistic range and fine vocals make it a good show indeed. — David Kunian, Gambit Weekly
Davis’ voice is beyond appealing. she belts out lyrics of a tattered woman with the voice of a flirty seductress. The daughter of two opera singers and a renowned ukulelist, Debbie was destined to make great music and have noLa stardom. - Kim Timbre, Where Y'at Magazine
Alex McMurray contributed three witty songs that frame the project. The languid title song is McMurray in his dreamy Hoagy Carmichael mode, and Davis delivers exquisite lines such as “dropped acid with the Eskimos” with superb aplomb. Perhaps the nicest thing about the track is Matt Perrine’s gorgeous string arrangement. Perrine put together another great string arrangement on McMurray’s sad and troubled love song, “Everything Right is Wrong Again.” By contrast, McMurray’s lighthearted love song “I’m Looking at You” ends the album on a sparse note, with Davis playing ukulele accompanied by McMurray’s acoustic guitar, while Zack Smith adds a carefree whistling part that makes it sound like Davis is riding off into the sunset.
Davis has a genius for revealing hidden nuances of well-known songs. In her hands, Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good” is transformed into a sexy tango propelled by Perrine’s sousaphone lines. Her Brazilian-accented reading of the Lennon/McCartney ballad “Things We Said Today” benefits from the presence of Beatleologist Tom McDermott on keys and a great guitar solo from McMurray. McDermott frames Davis’ vocals on the easy swinging “You Can’t Say I Didn’t Try” and joins a traditional New Orleans jazz lineup (along with Perrine, McMurray, Gerald French, Aurora Nealand, Evan Christopher, Matt Rhoady and Duke Heitger) for Irving Berlin’s “You’d Be Surprised.” Jon Cleary adds the proper honky tonk piano feel to the sassy “Mama Goes Where Papa Goes.” The only one of these exercises that falls flat is a bizarre reading of “Trouble in Mind,” in which Bobby Lounge steals the spotlight from Davis with his wheezing vocal and inept piano playing.
The most interesting and challenging song on the record, “Two Crested Caracaras,” is an exotic vision from the fervid pen of Mark Bingham that Davis sings with the wide-eyed fascination of a parent telling an adventure tale to a child. Bingham’s zen sense of the interconnectedness of beauty and mortality charges this hypnogogic travelogue ostensibly about a pair of carrion feeding raptors with numinous power. It’s a musical and narrative sleight of hand that sums up the effort that went into making Davis’ debut a memorable experience for all concerned.
- John Swenson, Offbeat Magazine
Offbeat Magazine Cover Story
The Couple That Plays Together...
Short Feature, Offbeat Magazine
Pfister Sister - French Quarter Fest Focus
Baked Ziti Recipe! Offbeat Magazine
Archive Obituary, Offbeat Magazine
The Gravy - In the Kitchen with Debbie Davis
I started making baked ziti with my mom; it’s a New Jersey thing. Baked ziti is almost more popular than lasagna in Jersey and I’m not sure why, except that you don’t have to be as patient with the pasta. Plus New Jersey is crawling with Italian people. I’m not one of them, but I grew up with them. Lots of Irish and lots of Italians—lots of Catholics, and they all like to eat and drink. Some more than others. Lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of cheese. More than two pounds of cheese in this dish, which I’m not apologetic about at all. I’m not shy with the garlic (read more...)
6 Degrees of Coco Robicheaux
Davis told her audience what had happened.(read more)
“Debbie Davis is old school, with a voice that is comfortable in various contexts. Besides her singing, Davis is a great entertainer, quick with a joke and rewritten lyric, like her descriptions of certain local figures sung to the tune of Cole Porter’s “Let’s Do It.” All in all, she’s what a cabaret singer should be.” David Kunian , Gambit Weekly
"Davis Eisenhower-era nightclub canary is right on the money. Its just the way these warblers were: fluffing their hair, rolling their eyes, purring Santa Baby or belting Just Make me a Present of You into one of those boxy mikes. In fact, Davis displays as much come-on with her clothes on as the rest of the girls do peeling them off" – David Cuthbert, Times Picayune
"Davis has a big, lush and wryly sultry voice, infused with intelligence and wit. "- Times Picayune
"Debbie Davis stands out in the crowd of vocalists like a bird-of-paradise in a roomful of parakeets. Her voice is a magnificent, near-operatic instrument" - Offbeat Magazine
"Debbie knocks the vocals out of the park". - Where Y’at Magazine
"Debbie Davis is generally recognized as possessing one of the most beautiful voices in a city filled with talented singers. Her warm, full voice illuminates the nooks and crannies of these songs with an emotional resonance that reminds listeners of such mistresses of restrained passion as Astrud Gilberto and Betty Carter. She’s also capable of letting that big voice carry her into mainstream pop territory, where her saucy delivery is more reminiscent of numerous big band vocalists and the great Cass Elliot. Every gesture is priceless." Offbeat Magazine
"Davis, who also plays a mean ukulele, sings with a big, bluesy voice that soars over tunes like Paul Sanchez’s “Mexico” as if it might ascend into the stratosphere, alighting onto the extended ends of each line she interprets. On “Mama Goes Where Papa Goes,” she performs with a dollop of theatricality and a sense that if nobody were listening, she might breathe twice the power into her voice, like a driver testing the upper limits of the speedometer on an open road." Downbeat Magazine