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Alana Davis has folk and bluegrass sounds straight from NYC

by Lee Adams

A few years ago when I first heard Alana Davis’ 32 Flavors (and then some) it was on Spindale’s public radio station WNCW, which is known for its folk, bluegrass and up-and-coming artists. Davis wasn’t new to the scene, but I didn’t know that. Since I didn’t hear her on mainstream radio I pictured her as a sweet Southern girl from the hills of North Carolina. Her music, full of funk and syncopation, still had that folk feel to it with her sassy voice and rhythmic acoustic guitar.

What I didn’t know is how wrong I was. Before long ‘“32 Flavors’” became a top 40 hit, and my favorite song. Davis is no country girl either, I found out. She’s New York City born and raised, growing up in Greenwich Village with a black father and a white mother.

Her father is jazz pianist Walter Davis, Jr.; her mother, jazz singer Anamari. In her biography she describes herself as the frizzy-haired girl who grew up without many close friends. Her mixed-race didn’t help her much either through high school and college in Manhattan’s Upper East Side where she says she was shunned by many of the wealthier school kids.

Now she considers herself her own person, proud of the fact she’s from a mixed family and trying to use her race to bring people together. ‘“32 Flavors,’” in fact, is a song celebrating her race and simply being who you are.

Her third and latest album, Surrender Dorothy, is the first produced on her new label Tigress Records, and packs just as much punch as her previous albums. The jazz influences from her family are clearly heard in this album which is full of dancing melodies, crisp acoustic guitar, funky bass and punchy drums. This album deserves to be played loud. The louder the better, in fact, but the louder it is the more I want to dance. But maybe she won’t hold that against me too much.

Alana still has that folksy, country-girl charm to me. Perhaps it’s because of her cute, bobbing hair and beauty mark on her cheek, or maybe it’s the sultry way she sings to me from my CD player. She even has that sultry sound on her voice mail that simply says, ‘“5, 4, 3, 2, 1,’” when trying to call her. And yes, she called back!

Her charm is everything I ever thought it was and she even tells me that she was inspired to get her first guitar around the age of 16 after getting together with her cousin in upstate New York for country and bluegrass jams.

Most of the songs on this new album talk about love that’s either lost or is just out of reach. I don’t know if it’s from personal experience but it must be as it’s something everyone has been able to relate to at least some time in their life. The song ‘“Desert Rose’” is one such, where Davis talks to one she loves but can’t have. In a part of the song Davis says, ‘“Under the moonlight I saw you kiss her face, I ate my heart out ’til it turned red.’”

It’s very reminiscent of a high school love, one in which perhaps you have a close friend you are afraid to reveal your love to and fear you would lose the fantasy relationship you have now if that love were to be revealed.

‘“If we were to kiss or even touch, it might have to mean the end of us,’” she goes on to sing.

There’s a lot of deep thinking in this album: wondering about life, about love, about dreams and about the future. It’s something I relate to as I constantly turn thoughts of my own life over and over in my head.

‘“Life is such a big, hairy beast that it deserves to be written about on this level,’” she says of the personal lyrics. She has also discovered there are people everywhere who feel the same ways she has and over time she has become less afraid to record her own personal thoughts.

All words and music were written by Davis except for two songs: ‘“The Reaper,’” a cover of the 1976 song by Donald Roeser of the Blue Oyster Cult and ‘“Nice Time’” by Bob Marley. Davis does amazing justice to these two songs, making them her own and a pleasure to listen to. The Reaper, she says, was chosen when she first just stumbled upon the rhythm while playing her guitar. Then she thought the line, ‘“ Baby, I’m your man,’” would be funny coming from a girl. As she pondered the lyrics she soon came to realize they were talking about what she was going through ‘— taking chances and forging on with life’s dreams. During this time she was pursuing her new record label and trying even harder to make her musical career her own.

Davis will be playing at Solaris on Oct. 8 as part of the Converge South Conference being held at NC A&T University, a meeting of journalists and bloggers focusing on cross-cultural diversity, media and technology. The concert is free for conference goers and $20 at the door for all others. Students get in for $15 with student ID.

This show is a must-see, whether you like jazz, rock, funk, whether you’re black or white.

To comment on this story, e-mail Lee Adams at lee@yesweekly.com.

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