Album Reviews

Guy Davis & Fabrizio Poggi

Artist:     Guy Davis & Fabrizio Poggi

Album:     Sonny & Brownie’s Last Train

Label:     M.C.

Release Date:     03/24/2017

86

 

This is a fond look back to the music of the Piedmont blues icons, harmonica ace Sonny Terry and acoustic guitarist Brownie McGhee. As Guy Davis says in the liners,” Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry were two musicians whose work will not be surpassed, let alone improved on. This musical opus was produced by Fabrizio Poggi (harmonica). It features our combined musical talents, and is not meant to compete with the originals. It’s meant to be a love letter to Brownie and Sonny signed by both of us.” Indeed, other than the Davis penned opening title track, these are songs from the Terry-McGhee catalog recorded live in a Milan, Italy studio last June. This is Italian Poggi’s third outing with Davis, and their third on the M.C. label.

Davis, of course, is one of our leading blues musicologists and an actor; and like most who play guitar and harmonica, has been deeply influenced by Terry and McGhee. The same holds true for Poggi. Both credit Terry mostly for their harmonica styles. Interestingly, Davis’ connection to the two is more than vicarious. He cites the fact that Sonny was featured in the musical “Finian’s Rainbow” in 1947 as the character “Sunny” and later both were featured in Broadway’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” Davis saw the two of them live in a 1981 production called Friends of Leadbelly in NYC in 1981. Years later Brownie visited Davis in his own one man play “The Adventures of Fishy Waters: In Bed with the Blues.” In 2009 the musical “Finian’s Rainbow” was revived on Broadway and Davis got to play the part that Sonny Terry originated back in 1947. Davis was able to perform the part three times at three different theaters in New York. So, it was almost inevitable that a homage record like this would be at some point forthcoming.

Faithful to the idiom, Davis and Poggi play as a duo: Davis on vocals, guitar, and foot stomps; with Poggi on harmonica. Davis provides small capsules for each of the songs in the liners that display the complete lyrics of the tunes, some traditional (i.e.”Shortnin’ Bread,” “Take This Hammer”), some Terry-McGhee (“Evil Hearted Me,” ”Walk On,” ”Hooray, Hooray These Women is Killing Me”), and others written by the likes of Elizabeth Cotten (“Freight Train”) and Big Bill Broonzy(“Louise, Louise”); and yet others associated with Josh White (“Midnight Special”) and Leadbelly(“Step It Up and Go”). Some of the material is rather intricate, as were the originals. It’s a mix of mostly familiar tunes with a couple of more obscure ones. Davis and Poggi wanted to challenge themselves. This is a reverent ode to blues masters Terry and McGhee. Listen up and seek out the original music too.

Note: Davis and Poggi will be touring the album, most notably at The Blast Furnace Blues Festival in Bethlehem, PA , March 24-26.

—Jim Hynes

Got something to say?