Rock and Reprise.ne
Whoowee! If you like the fifties wrapped up with a pretty western bow, you want Stephanie Davis. The simultaneously released Western Bliss and Western Bling are an excellent collection of songs reminiscent of the late 40s and early 50s, what us kids used to call 'western' and 'lounge'--- classic melodies supported by jazzy riffs and a little swing, sometimes country and sometimes not. With the Rock & Roll genes in our systems, we undoubtedly remember it sounding a bit lame, but before that, when we were children, it was in our blood too. We just didn't realize it. This was our music before Rock & Roll steamrolled us into the future.
I remember plopping myself down in front of the family console, turned just loud enough for pleasurable listening, to hear music like this. Blanket in hand, I would roll up like a ball and drift away on tunes by Hank Snow and Bob Wills and The Sons of the Pioneers and, on the other side, Count Basie and Duke Ellington and Glenn Miller. In those wonder days, no song was sacred yet every song was sacred, any and all artists riding the good music path to fame and fortune. It seemed that way, anyway. When I drifted off to sleep listening to Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart play Slow Poke, all was right with the world.
I'd thought those days gone except in the mind until I received the Stephanie Davis CDs. Of course, I knew what was coming, having seen a list of the easily recognizable songs before they arrived. What I didn't know was how amazing those songs would sound. I knew Davis would handle the vocals well (she is, after all, Stephanie Davis) and pretty much figured the band would be solid. The sound, however caught me totally off guard. How can I describe it. Hmmm. Smooooth.
Western Bliss is nothing short of bliss. Davis and crew dish up an amazing array of Western. That's right. Before Country & Western, there was Western, in all its Hollywood and record label glory--- a genre geared specifically to the West, which in those days was pretty much the Wild Wild West. Everything cowboy was western--- cowboys, cowgirls, horses, dogies, The Grand Canyon--- everything.
It is tribute to those involved that choosing the songs was total labor of love. They could have gone with the tried and true--- the hits from the best of Hollywood's westerns--- but they didn't. They chose songs based upon feel, and let me tell you, the feeling is good. Slightly upbeat to high and lonesome, the music flows over you like slow moving cool river water on a hot summer day. Some of the songs may not have been hits, but they are all classics. Montana Cowgirl, Santa Fe New Mexico, Navajo Trail and the rest bring my childhood back to me with a warm rush. When I put this on, I am once again laying in front of the console, blanket in hand, Momma and Dad sitting in their chairs listening with lights low.
Stepping it up a notch, Western Bling hits a more buoyant stride and the West is not so much the Wild Wild West as Western Swing, but the magic is still there. You can't help but notice Davis' tribute to the queen of Nashville composers Cindy Walker (she includes excellent remakes of Hubbin' It, Baby That Sure Would Go Good and Goin' Away Party, performed to perfection). Add to those tracks like the ever popular Redd Stewart/Pee Wee King standard Slow Poke, the still astonishingly beautiful If I Had You (which will inevitably rise to the popularity of At Last one day) and the lighthearted The Best Things in Life Are Free (complete with Les Paul-style lead guitar) and all is, like I said, once again right with the world.
These CDs are class all the way. The packages sport the beautiful and semi-surreal artwork of Monte Dolack, who has gained a niche among the artists of the Northwest and probably the world, beautifully portrayed on slick cardboard. A slap on the wrist to Ms. Davis in that she did not get the track-by-track liner notes ready in time for printing, but she makes them available on her website (her comments regarding the music along with her insights make them well worth reading). The actual CDs, you ask? Let us talk about the CDs.
Physically, they are imprinted with the same artwork which blesses the jackets, but it is the music which makes them special. On the recording side of these discs are captured sessions worthy of the old days, and let me explain. My Rock & Roll genes, when they kicked in, had me convinced that newer was better. I didn't question that until The Nashville Network surfaced on cable and started showing live clips from the late 40s and early 50s. In my mind the sound was trash, but when I saw artists like Cowboy Copas, Patsy Cline, Left Frizzell and Hank Williams on film, I trashed the attitude. When recorded correctly, the sound was as good as any produced by today's engineering wizards.
Davis and cohorts recreated that here. Seldom have I heard sound so clean, playing so effortless. If they left sweat on the studio floor, you can't hear it on the recording. The session work is beyond first-rate. Everyone nailed their part, but special mention has to be given to Rich O'Brien (guitar) and Cindy Cashdollar (steel guitar), just because they are more upfront than the others (although truth be told, I have seldom heard better players on their instruments). A big pat on the back to O'Brien as well for on-the-money production and co-arranging.
The Big Pat, though, goes to Stephanie Davis. Her reverence and love for the music she plays is evident throughout these CDs. It breathes through the speakers, and that cool breeze should make us all aware that Montana is, in the grand scheme of all things musical, a mecca. It is The West, after all.
Frank O. Gutch Jr.