Charleston-based singer/guitarist Davis Coen dives deeper into the Mississippi Delta on his brand-new studio album Magnolia Land, a swingin’ and deeply soulful 12-song collection recorded over the course of the last two years.
Coen has a strong reputation for being able to pull just about anything from his sizeable mixed bag of traditional blues songs — from lonesome and dusty country blues to urban/Chicago-styled stuff to hillbilly twang. Here, he sings and plays with focus and confidence, picking up where he left off with last year’s charming and scruffy Blue Lights for Yours and Mine. He tracked this cool new stuff at Delta Recording Service in Como, Miss., with James “Jimbo” Mathus (of Squirrel Nut Zippers, Knockdown South) at the helm and on occasional bass and guitar.
It sounds like a full-band effort with drummer Darren Dortin and guest timekeeper Kinney Kimbrough laying down beats on every track. Other special guests include assist Justin Showah (of Afrissippi) and organist Lance Ashley. A few covers made it into the set, including Howlin’ Wolf “Natchez Burning” and Muddy Waters’ “You Gonna Miss Me.” Coen’s original tunes range in style from old-school boogie (the upbeat “Anna Ann” and “Eyes Like Diamonds”) to funky juke-joint soul (“Wrong Side of Town” and the surprisingly romantic “Nothin’ to Hold on To”).
Coen states in a press release that this album is his first “to stray completely from my much-visited Piedmont acoustic guitar style … for electrically charged arrangements rooted deeply in the musical environs present around the Hill Country and nearby Memphis.” Capturing a healthy sample of that hilly vibe, he renders “Country Girl Blues” — one of several old traditonals on the album — convincingly with his salty, deep-note singing. When he sings, “She started leavin’ early in the morning/Didn’t get back until the break of day … I didn’t like that!” Davis sounds like some old, lonesome man on the porch scratchin’ his head and sipping his bourbon, frustrated and heartsick. His waling slide guitar licks help paint the sad picture. Peppered with bad-ass Hammond B3 licks from Ashley, lead-off track “Tired and Lonesome” is among the many highlights of this impressive blues collection.