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.