Like many musicians who play on Frenchmen Street, Davis has performed with many musicians and a lot of bands, but after playing with The Mesmerizers for more than a year now, she’s reluctant to play with others any more than necessary.
“They are now feeling what I want before I tell them, which is refreshing,” Davis said. “And frankly, the fewer people in the mix, the more I can pay them. And whatever I pay will never be enough.”
For the impromptu session, Davis selected songs that were already established parts of the band’s set, some of which are well known blues and jazz compositions, but she also includes The Kinks’ “Sunny Afternoon” and “After Hours” by The Velvet Underground. It’s tempting to assume that it was a song Davis added to the set after its songwriter, Lou Reed, died last October, but that wasn’t the case.
“It’s been in the set for years,” she said. She didn’t want to hurry another Velvets song into the set after he passed away, but now she’s starting to think about whether another might be a good idea. “I guess it has been long enough now that I can add another Velvets song to the set and it won’t look like chasing an ambulance.”
She also covered Led Zeppelin’s reggae exercise, “D’yer Maker,” which posed some challenges. “It asked me to sing a C full-voiced in tune four times, which is something I don’t often put myself through,” Davis said.
Because the song is definitely a rock ’n’ roll song, it made slightly different demands on her as a singer, but Davis sang in a classic rock cover band in New Jersey before she moved to New Orleans in 1997, so she knew how to perform it.
“I was doing musical theater at the same time that I was doing the classic rock band, and I applied so much of what I was doing in the theater to the classic rock stuff to make it singable a few times a week.”
The album ends with her version of the jazz standard, “I Cover the Waterfront.” On it, Davis accompanies herself on the ukelele. She plays the instrument on much of the album, largely because “it’s a very accessible instrument. It’s small, it’s portable, and it makes a very pleasant sound. It’s easy to learn how to play.”
With the band, she uses it largely as a textural element for the high, strummed, rhythmic element that it adds, but she does occasionally play solo voice and ukelele sets.
She keeps those short though, because it also presents some limitations. With only four strings, some chords can’t be fully formed, and “if you do voice and ukelele, all the songs are two to three minutes long.”
Davis thinks the short time she had to record “Linger ’Til Dawn” worked to her advantage. If she’d have had more time, “I’d have made more mistakes,” she said.
“Having a bottom line and and a time line leaves very little ... wiggle room for you to go do something in the name of creativity that just winds up being a waste of time.”
Alex Rawls writes about music in New Orleans. He can be reached at MySpiltMilk.com.