december 2009

Debbie Davies (left) and Laurie Morvan: masterful pickers make a stand, settle some scores

Fired Up and Ready To Go

By David McGee

Debbie Davies
Little Dipper Records





Laurie Morvan Band
Screaming Lizard Records

A real good year for blues women became even more compelling late in the year with the release of new albums from veterans Debbie Davies and Laurie Morvan. Both masterful pickers, Davies, an alum of Albert Collins’s Icebreakers, uses Holdin’ Court solely as a guitar showcase—it’s all instrumental, largely original and redolent with stylistic nods to her many influences but ultimately stands as a potent individual statement on its own terms; on Fire It Up! Morvan spares no energy in attacking her songs with brittle, spitfire six-string sorties of her own devising, but she’s singing the blues as well, specifically as they relate to misguided paramours she seems to have encountered personally. With or without words, though, Davies and Morvan cut imposing artistic figures by dint of the authority of their playing and, in Morvan’s case, the fire in her voice.


Coming of age in the ‘60s, Davies was drawn to the electric blues as played by giants such as Albert King, Albert Collins, Otis Rush, Gatemouth Brown and such. In tone and texture, all those big men are acknowledged in Davies’ instrumental work here, but more subtly than overtly or, God forbid, derivatively. Much of the time they’re present all at once: in one solo you might catch a hint of King’s sizzle, Gatemouth’s burn, Collins’s spikey thrust and Rush’s soulful musing. Any way you cut it, what Davies does with the guitar is always arresting. There’s a little funky Memphis soul working in “So What” (which also features the only vocal utterance on the record, as a chorus shouts the title sentiment at the song’s close) and some lowdown Texas strutting reminiscent of Stevie Ray Vaughan by way of his buddy Albert King on the driving “Percolatin’.” Fittingly, the album kicks off with one of its four covers, “Fishnet,” a horn-enriched bump-and-grind by the master blues alchemist, Duke Robillard, with Davies riding a hard, trebly Collins-like line over and around bassist Casandra Faulconer’s burbling bass and drummer Don Castagno’s no-nonsense thrust. She also takes on one of Collins’s favorite concert numbers, “If You Love Me Like You Say,” and finds her own turf by not emulating the master’s astringent tone but rather by ratcheting up the wah-wah and distortion pedals and taking the song on a serpentine strut to its final destination as a setup for the album’s final track, Davies’s own “Zoom-in’,” which is another smoke altogether. If you’ve come this far and enjoyed the ingenuity and individuality of her playing as she pays homage to so many of the blues giants who inspired her, buckle down for this one because it’s a for-real, pants-down, wild ride on the pipeline—really, a fierce, focused surf charge that would make Dick Dale proud, encompassing heavy, top strings drama, shimmering whammy-bar textures and rousing trebly stabs supplemented by the ominous, oceanic atmosphere supplied by Paul Opalach’s organ. For a record with no words on it, Holdin’ Court states its case most eloquently for Ms. Davies’ inspired artistry.


In Laurie Morvan’s case, she’s settling some scores on Fire It Up! and if you’re among those who crossed her romantically, our sympathies, but you’re getting what you deserve. The blues and soul excursions here center largely on issues relating to perception versus reality in matters of the heart, with Morvan’s original songs usually pointing out how potential suitors completely misjudged her, to their detriment. It doesn’t start out that way—in her hard charging album opener, “Nothin’ But the Blues,” Morvan proclaims, “I ain’t never gonna quit, cuz this is who I am,” and goes on to explain without equivocation why she sticks with what brung her this far since her 1997 debut. It gets more complicated from there, though. She raises a skeptical eyebrow at the thought of any “good girls” really existing, proclaiming in the churning “Good Girls Bad Girls” that “all the good girls are just bad girls that ain’t been caught.” To that person in coupling mode in the funky “I Speak The Blues,” she advises the way to her heart is not complicated—“If you know who you’re talkin’ to/And feel the rhythm and the rhyme of my soul and my mind/That’s your clue”—as long as said person understand that the blues is the loving tongue. By the same token, in the thick, churning stew of “Livin’ In a Man’s World,” she confirms Brother James Brown’s assertion that it’s a man’s, man’s, man’s world, then systematically chronicles the sexism she’s had to buck (“sometimes I had to be twice as good/just to get half as much respect, baby”), but also takes responsibility for choosing to follow her heart, no matter the odds stacked against her. The same gospel-style chorus that seconds her pronouncements on “Livin’ In a Man’s World” returns for the percolating soul workout “You Don’t Know About Me,” a rather pointed, unforgiving screed aimed at a partner who has clearly misjudged the intensity of her hormonal rage, which she underscores with a charged, howling, searing Tele run of no small consequence. In “Testify,” a rip-roaring appeal for, shall we say, transparency in romance, she dissembles a lover who wham-bams-and-thank-you-ma’ms, employing as her backdrop a surging southern rock mise en scene defined by a righteous female chorus, sturdy rhythmic pulse and Morvan’s screaming guitar soloing. In contrast to these rather unsparing vivisections, she also pleads compellingly for someone to try a little tenderness, spiritually in the gospel-infused testifying of “Lay Your Hands,” physically in “Come On Over To My BBQ,” its greasy R&B groove fueled by piercing Tele lines, a sputtering organ and sensuous female cooing in the background in furthering a lubricious double entendre-rich invite to partake of some particularly tasty tidbits she offers (“I’m gonna put up my tenderloins/and let you fire up my grill”). Say this for Fire It Up!: in balancing the artist’s umbrage with her sensuous appeals it takes on the feel of real life. At the end of the day, you believe her. But don’t play games, y’hear? 

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024