Nick Jonah Davis is a solo instrumental guitarist from Nottingham, England. He has released three albums before House of Dragons. Split Electric with C Joynes (Thread Recordings, 2016), Of Time and Tides (Tompkins Square, 2011) and Guitar Recordings Vol. 1 (self-released, 2009). He was also featured on the fourth volume of Tompkins Square’s ongoing guitar compilation, Imaginational Anthem, and their tribute album to Michael Chapman, Oh Michael, Look What You’ve Done. The release of House of Dragons by Thread Recordings follows the release of a limited edition vinyl version on the Lancashire and Somerset label in 2015. It is, quite simply, a wonderful piece of work.
House of Dragons, the eponymous opening track is an open-toned, mysterious, beckoning overture which quickens as it draws you deeper in. Some phrases suggest the East, some do not. Dragons, it seems, are everywhere. Reasonably, you might expect the album to persist in this vein…you would be wrong
Pili Pala is a bright bouncy little tune, with the guitar capoed high up the neck. Part way through there are passages which, to me, suggest some aspects of Hawaiian slack key guitar but researching the title offered two meanings. Pili pala card (scarecrow), a card in a trading game or Welsh for butterfly. I’ll stick with the latter. This bright feel is continued in the following track Howie Heads for the Hills. Howie would be a happy fellah when off to the hills with this tune ringing behind him.
Just when you’re nicely settled, along comes Double Peace. The track opens with what I think might be bowed guitar which is almost feedback-like. For a second I thought I was back in Split Electric-land. Out of this comes a guitar which has the tone of a hammered dulcimer underneath which ring what I guess are finger cymbals and later on something which sounds like an old-fashioned ringing telephone? Though this Nick Jonah Davis’ Weissenborn style lap slide cuts like the proverbial knife, ghost tones echoing from the undamped slide. Eerie as hell and wonderful to listen to. My personal favourite on the album.
Zanzibar Chai is a much cleaner slide track with both the feel and the cymbal washes characteristic of Fleetwood Mac’s Albatross. Again, there are hints of the Orient in some phrases but then Zanzibar chai is a spiced black tea.
Track 6, The Peace of Running Water takes us back to straight guitar. This is an impressionistic piece. I tend to see pictures with music and this filled my head with a mountain stream slowing as its flows downhill to softer land. Beautifully rendered by Nick Jonah Davis’ incredibly precise and controlled fingerpicking.
The tempo steps up again for The Stansville Strut where an Old Timey tune meets Fahey of the Death Chants, Breakdowns and Military Waltzes period and both are cocky as each other. Stansville is a tough area of Nottingham!
When the Fish Fly and the Seas Run Dry changes the mood yet again. The piece is as enigmatic as the title. It could easily belong in the modern classical repertoire, although it might just frighten a few concert guitarists. I haven’t a clue where the piece comes from and this gives me a perfect opportunity to offer my repeated dismay at the demise of liner notes. The music is wonderful, a bit of background would be greatly appreciated.
The feel of When the Fish Fly and the Seas Run Dry is carried on in the following track Farewell Sad Flower. There is something Spanish about some of the intervals in this requiem, for that is what it must be if you take the title at face value.
The title of the closer, The Illumination of Nelson Fortune , cannot help but call to mind Fahey’s ‘The death of Clayton Peacock’ but there the similarity ends. It opens with didgeridoo and this tune has more of the feel of Blind Willie Johnson’s ‘Dark was the night, Cold was the Ground’. This is the only track on the album where other musicians are credited alongside Nick Jonah Davis’ guitar, namely Karl Townsend (Didgeridoo) and Chris Joynes (Banjo and Balaphon). The track finishes with Chris Joynes playing something on the banjo which echoes closely a section in the opener House of Dragons. Neat!
Credit must also be given to Cam Deas (producer) and Pete Fletcher (mix/mastering). They have overseen a beautifully clean, crisp recording which avoids overly large reverbs whilst allowing Nick Jonah Davis’ ringing guitar tones, generated in part from the finger picks he uses, to hang in the air. I doubt if I will come across a better album this year if I ever do it will be a considerable piece of work.
Satuday 17th September – Afternoon solo show at Rough Trade, Nottingham with Charlie Ulyatt and Yellow6.