by Patrick Dunn
From the October, 2016 issue
Like Laith Al-Saadi, Joshua Davis was a Michigan artist thrust suddenly into the national spotlight on NBC's singing competition The Voice. Although Davis didn't quite make it to the show's top prize--a record deal and a cool hundred grand--viewer votes poured in from across the nation to place the Traverse City-based singer-songwriter and guitarist among the show's four finalists. But for all the hoopla, The Voice hasn't changed Davis's unassuming contemporary folk act one bit.
Calling Davis a folk act is a bit of a misnomer. Although his work is steeped in Americana, he hardly follows the traditional model of a singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar. There's a definite pop sensibility to Davis's sound, but even that description suggests something more complex and calculated than the innovative trio in his current live show. Davis provides warm, fluid electric guitar licks and, of course, the voice that put him on The Voice: his vocals are gentle but surprisingly powerful, drawing the listener in with an amiable delivery that recalls Paul Simon while also occasionally reminding his audience that he can belt with the best of them.
Backing him up is a powerhouse duo of Michigan talent. Percussionist Michael Shimmin has worked with a who's who of local artists ranging from Seth Bernard and May Erlewine to Peter Madcat Ruth. In Davis's band, Shimmin is stunningly versatile in his use of the simple boxlike percussion instrument known as the cajon. Perched atop the instrument, Shimmin crafts a stripped-back version of traditional rock drumming and even emulates Middle Eastern-style percussion for Davis's song "The Market," inspired by a trip to Jerusalem. Then there's keyboardist Mike Lynch, who has played with national names ranging from Norah Jones to Willie Nelson. Lynch is an understated master of his craft, providing low-key backup most of the time but occasionally cutting loose with a sly R&B groove (as on the group's entertaining cover of Tom Waits's "Get Behind the Mule") or even busting out an
The result is a group that has all the folksy mannerism and simple storytelling of classic American folk, but enriched with melodic hooks and, often, a danceable beat. It's an engaging combination, made all the more attractive by Davis's lovely stage personality. Regardless of the size of the crowd he's playing to, Davis makes the listener feel as though he or she is just sitting around the living room enjoying the company of a talented musician friend. Davis talks at length between songs, explaining the stories behind them (these days, many of them are about his two children). Davis may not have taken home the big brass ring on The Voice (although his stint there did attract a remarkable collaborator, Los Lobos's Steve Berlin, to produce his forthcoming new album), but at this point in his career he seems happier than ever. "When I wake up every day I feel grateful to be able to do what I do for a living," Davis said from the stage at a recent Ann Arbor performance. There was no entertainer's artifice to the statement; that's just who Davis is.
Joshua Davis returns to the Ark October 21 and 22.
[Originally published in October, 2016.]
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