Sunday, January 27, 2008

Ashley Davis at Joe's Pub

On Thursday, January 17th, my friend and singing teacher, Ashley Davis, performed at Joe’s Pub, a classy little night spot at the Public Theater in Manhattan. I thoroughly enjoyed the show, and for days afterward I found myself thinking about it. In an attempt to organize my reflections, I decided it might be interesting to write a review. While I realize what I'm about to say is not entirely impartial, I've tried to base my comments on my own credentials as a musician (briefly noted in my profile) as well as a lifetime of informed listening to music of many genres. My friendship with Ashley, however, allows me to identify with the pride she takes in her work and with her aspirations.

Ashley is a songwriter as well as a singer. Although grounded in traditional Irish convention, Ashley's melodies often tend to be more contemporary in nature. While it’s possible to identify her influences - the lilting Irish phrasing, the distinctive Scottish snap, the haunting Manx tunes, the Eastern modal scales, even the heartbreak of Nashville ballads - Ashley has thoroughly digested all these elements and incorporates them in various ways and to varying degrees, resulting in a style that’s all her own.

With an MA in Traditional Irish Singing from the University of Limerick in Ireland, Ashley studied sean-nos singing and mastered the art of melodic ornamentation. She has the vocal facility to ornament “til the cows come home” (as they might say in her native state of Kansas). However, she uses ornamentation sparingly, where it will be most effective. In fact, she loves to sustain long tones - and her pitch never wavers - while her musicians provide an underpinning of interesting rhythms and countermelodies. In the realm of Irish song, that's more contemporary than traditional, to be sure.

I'm hard pressed to know how best to describe Ashley’s voice. To say that it’s lovely is an understatement. The velvet-like quality she achieves in all registers is pleasing, never cloying. The listener has no idea when she’s near the top or the bottom of her range because she seems at ease wherever the melody leads her. Ashley's delivery is expressive in the understated traditional way, without pretention or affectation.

Ashley made good programming choices. To open, she walked onstage and without a word of explanation or translation sang Pill A Run O, a slow, pensive Irish song she learned from Moya Brennan. Despite the language barrier, her sensitive treatment of this beautiful song touched the audience and established an immediate rapport. As the evening's music selections progressed, differences in tempo and instrumental texture were nicely paced, as was the logical sequence from song to song.

I wouldn't be the first reviewer to praise Ashley's flair for narrative. Entirely comfortable on stage, Ashley makes everyone in the audience feel like they are longtime friends. The introductions that precede each song guide her listeners on a smooth musical journey from beginning to end.

Supporting Ashley were these instrumentalists. (Not all players were required on every song.)
While the sound system was excellent and volume levels didn't overpower the audience, my musical taste differed slightly from the person running the sound board. For me, Ashley's intimate style is at odds with the use of reverberation. Regarding balance, every now and then the rhythm guitar or the acoustic piano seemed on the verge of overpowering the vocal line. And throughout the evening, I wished for more flute sound in the mix. Overall, though, these things didn't prevent me - or anyone else - from thoroughly enjoying the show and appreciating the fine work of the band.

For details on Ashley's background, you can download her electronic press kit or listen to the audio interview on the Joe's Pub website. I particularly enjoyed an article entitled From Country to Celtic celebrating the debut of her first CD, Closer to You.

To hear Ashley's music, go to her MySpace site. You can purchase individual songs there as well as from iTunes. Closer to You in its entirety can be ordered from CDBaby. Ashley's next concert will be April 10th and 11th at the Irish Arts Center in Manhattan. Watch her website for news of future gigs and of the release this fall of her second CD.

In her online journal about her residency on the Isle of Man, Ashley coupled a daisy she drew in the sand on a Manx beach with an old Manx saying that the island's government has adopted as its motto. In context, the photo and quote express her hope that Manx music and culture would prevail despite the pressures of the modern world.

Looking at that daisy, I thought about Ashley's talent and my hopes for her future. Putting the picture and quote in the context of this post, let me close by saying: Ashley, regardless of what obstacles you might encounter as your career unfolds, may this old Manx saying become your mantra.

Quocunque jeceris stabit
Whichever way you throw me, I shall stand

Photos courtesy of Ashley Davis
© 2008, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

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