Of all English songwriters, John Dowland has enjoyed the most powerful afterlife, his voice unmistakably present in any version of his songs. The preeminent marriage of music and poetry, the nuanced shades of wit and melancholy and the extraordinary writing for both lute and voice all combine to proclaim Dowland as the father of English song.
Performances of Bach's St. John Passion, BWV 245, with these forces or close to them have become an annual Eastertime tradition in London, and this recording is guaranteed an appreciative audience. Certain details relate specifically to this tradition: several chorales are sung unaccompanied, but an accompanied version is included at the end for those who reject the dramatization.
Ray Davies published a memoir chronicling his life-long affair with America in 2013. Naturally, it was called Americana, and that's also the title of this 2017 musical adaptation of the book. Davies plays a little fast and loose with his facts, which is perhaps a detriment in an autobiography but suits the condensed nature of songwriting. He doesn't tell a story with Americana – it's not a song cycle along the lines of Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) – but rather offers a series of vignettes, some torn from the pages of his book, others expanding upon its themes. Images of highways, cowboys, and movies dance through the songs, as do sly allusions to the Kinks…
One of the toughest, most talented female singer-songwriter-guitar slingers on the contemporary blues scene today is Debbie Davies. On Love the Game the former sidewoman to John Mayall and Albert Collins spices up her collection of insightful, slice-of-life stories (some of which were penned by her longtime bandmate Don Castagno) with stinging licks and down-home soul. Produced by the wily blues vet Duke Robillard, Debbie’s seventh overall and third for Shanachie features special guest appearances from guitarist Jay Geils, pianist Bruce Katz, saxophonists Doug James and Gordon Beadle and longtime guitar colleague Coco Montoya, who lays out some ferocious licks alongside Davies and Robillard on the aptly named three-way shuffle jam “Fired Up.” Debbie’s autobiographical words on “Can’t Live Like This No More” hit home to anyone over “a certain age,” while the feelings of futility she sings about on her melancholy slow blues “Down in the Trenches” would register with anyone who has ever felt love slip away. Castango offers a sly sense of earthy humor on “Worst Kinda Man,” “Keep Your Sins to Yourself” and the album’s lone acoustic number, “Was Ya Blue”.