Ethan Daniel Davidson took an unusually long hiatus for a singer/songwriting looking to regain his footing in a modern Americana landscape inhabited by both ready and rising completion. His upcoming album, due August 21, Come Down Lonesome marks his first full length effort since the release of his album Drawnigh in 2015, which in itself was three years in coming following the appearance of Silvertooth in 2012.
Nevertheless, the new album is a timely return, an astute reminder of the roots of America’s folk traditions and a sturdy reminder that past precepts still serve us well in the fractured landscape of today’s troubled times. By turns both harrowing and harrowing, It finds Davidson paying homage to folk music’s essential forefathers, Blind Reverend Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt, Bob Dylan, and Cowboy Joe Babcock, interspersing his interpretations with vintage standards and original offerings of his own.
To his credit, the Detroit-based artist goes beyond simply offering homage to his distinguished precedents. His take on more traditional tunes such as “Leaving Cheyenne,” “I Washed My Hands in Muddy Water” and “Turkle Dove” take on a solemnity and determination that not only befits the music’s origins, but also the troubled times that mark both past and present. His cover of Dylan’s “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine” is awash in feedback and distortion, underscoring the sense of distress and disconnect that Davidson purveys overall. The music is filtered through an indistinct haze, adding to the sense of fateful foreboding throughout.
The first glimpse at this remarkable new album appears in the form of a Davidson original, “Someday I’ll Be Caught,” a lonesome lament and croon of a tune that finds the singer sharing both his remorse and regret.
“It’s got those 25¢ chord changes that I ripped off from Music Row and Tin Pan Alley,” Davidson says of the song. “They’re similar to old show bar changes, and the lyrics in a sense too.”
His humility aside, it’s an affecting effort that’s profound in its own inimitable way. Davidson makes no apologies for his past actions and instead succumbs to the inevitable realization that his actions are entirely his own, and their consequences are his alone to bear. Both plaintive and poignant, it bares his emotions in a decidedly deliberate way. Indeed, at a time when politicos in particular refuse to take responsibility and hold themselves accountable for their mistakes and misdeeds, “Someday I’ll Be Caught” provides a lesson well worth remembering: history is ingrained, inscribed and mostly immune to being rewritten.
The press material that accompany the album states the following: “One of the great folk singer-songwriters working today, Ethan Daniel Davidson’s music takes its listeners far beyond his native Detroit, through America’s musical past and into realms of mortality and myth, love and loneliness.”
It’s a poetic description to be sure, but one befitting an eerily elusive, somewhat tattered troubadour. With this song, and the album from which its spawned, Ethan Daniel Davidson suggests the past is present after all.
Photo credit: Esme McClear