Friday, March 14, 2014

Review: Ashley Davis - Night Travels

Growing up, we were always taught the old adage that one could tell a lot about a person by the company they kept. And as we stick to that tried and true teaching as we take a glimpse at Ashley Davis’ latest, Night Travels, I think it’s safe to say that we’re in good hands as Davis is joined by a stirring list of guest stars like Sara Watkins and Celtic music legend Moya Brennan. Not only does it hint at what good lies in these tracks, it also hints at the work Davis has put in to get where she’s at.

The Kansas born and bred Davis began traveling around the Midwest, singing and performing at the age of 14 and soon headed off to Nashville’s Belmont University where she immersed herself not only in music culture but also in Irish, British, and Latin literature. Not long after she would pursue and earn her graduate degree from the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance, under the direction of Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin and would then head off to an Artist in Residence position on the Isle of Man. Then, interestingly enough, the artist found herself drawn to Sin City by Michael Flatley in 2010 as she was the featured soloist for “Lord of the Dance.”
Night Travels is the artist’s fourth release and marks a shift for the vocalist and songwriter, as she shares, “On my other albums I would have been more cerebral, more academic. This one I really let go and allowed myself to understand that sometimes simplicity is elegance."

The term “simplicity” here is misleading, however, as it’s a term that fails to capture the grace and beauty that Davis brings to the recording.
That beauty begins right from the start as Davis duets with Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek fame on “His Bride I’ll Be,” acoustic strings and emotive fiddle notes framing the stunning vocals as Davis delivers a tale of whimsy and love. “I’ll Follow You (Leanain Thu)” taps even deeper into the singer’s Irish love, lush guitar work providing the space for her soulful and ethereal vocal delivery to shine. She then joins with Irish guitar great John Doyle to deliver a painfully bittersweet version of the traditional classic, “Barbara Allen.”

The title track follows, laden with fiddle reels and more of Davis’s sensitive vocals while “The Blackest Crow” is reminiscent of work by Alison Krauss. Fiddler Eileen Ivers makes an appearance on the hauntingly beautiful “With You Love,” the ethereal elements recalling Loreena McKennitt as “In The Blue” samples from both Irish and Americana camps, the piano notes lovingly accented by accordion fills.
Moya Brenna is Davis’ guest on “Beside You Near,” a song the artist crafted specifically to highlight her friend and mentor’s voice and it does that and more, proving to be one of the definite highlights of the record. “Alone With Me” is another strong track, largely in that it’s a bit of a departure from the rest of the album, bridging into a touch of country yet still tinged with Celtic leanings. Davis then closes things out with “Horses” and the almost theatrical “Dreams Will Come.” It’s the type of track that feels as though it’d fit perfectly into a musical and that seemingly tells the story of Davis’ life, of a life that’s had her dreams come true.

Ashley Davis has worked hard to achieve the status that she’s achieved and it’s all well-deserved. Night Travels highlights an artist who continues to grow in her craft, writing compelling and heartfelt songs and delivering them with not only poise, but passion. Ashley Davis is the real deal and for fans of Celtic flavored sounds, this is one journey you’ll want to join up with.