You walk cautiously into a mist. Hesitant, but spellbound, you proceed through the darkness. You hear entrancing sounds, a beautiful yet eerie ambiance surrounds you and fills your ears. You keep moving through the vaporous fog and when it dissipates, you’re suddenly standing on a different street, in a different city, and in a different time. This is Americana-folk music from another dimension.
To put the headphones on and press play with an Ethan Daniel Davidson album is to be truly transported. Not necessarily transported to a tangible place of specific, historical placement, but to a more amorphous waking-dream state, where the contrivances of tension and materialistic media platforms that otherwise distract us day in and day out can evaporate, and all you care about is hanging on every word of this dulcet-toned warbler as he unveils vivid characters and their stories. You want to listen to the end. You want to see where these songs will take you.
Come Down Lonesome is the follow-up to Davidson’s 2015 album Drawnigh. This new album finds Davidson reimagining songs by folk music legends like Blind Reverend Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt, Bob Dylan, and Cowboy Joe Babcock, while also threading in poignant folk standards and a few of his own original arrangements. Davidson spent much of the early parts of this century as an authentic itinerant troubadour, traveling all around the country. It’s powerfully moving to hear something in his voice that suggests he’s still searching for something.
When this album is available on August 21, I insist upon experiencing it with headphones on — preferably while you’re out for a walk. There are instruments, verses, melodies, and harmonies captured here, but the ambient drones, hums, and whirring wrapped along the edges of each recording provide something of a Rorschach Test for the ears, spurring you to imagine a world in your head where all of these low-in-the-mix churnings and buzzings could be — a train passing in the distance, a television left on in the basement, a generator from a distant factory, or just the distortion of your own mind settling its thoughts as you meditate and rolling towards a fleeting clarity. As stated earlier, this isn’t your typical folk-rock album; there’s a majestic weariness to the voice of Davidson, and an entrancing lilt-and-glide to the instrumentation, with a trundling of sounds and feedback, always roiling in the background.
Often on film soundtracks, usually dramas or hard-wrought coming of age movies, there’s a certain kind of song that will be played over a montage that rolls just before the closing credits. It’s the kind of song where the protagonist has been through the journey and is coming to a place of earned, albeit uneasy, peace, and that’s where I see Davidson. In fact, that’s how Davidson sounds: a voice from a soul that’s seen some things. Almost every song on his new album sounds like it is that certain song that you hear before the end credits — when a sort of sanctuary is finally reached. I hear and see Davidson, singing to us all at that point in the film in a cautious repose on a wooden stool in a clearing in the middle of the woods, around a fire, regaling us with resplendent ghost stories and heart-hardening reveries.
There has been an admitted surplus of imagery written into this album review — but that’s due to the evocative powers of these recordings, as well as the transportive elements of the instrumentation: a blend of western sounds from the beads shushing in the percussion, to the pedal-steel’s splendid moan, to the rich resonance of an acoustic guitar. Where the old world meets the ethereal is when Davidson blends his voice and these instruments with the welcomed surprises of a saxophone, an electric guitar, and those aforementioned ambient drones. The end result is something that offers both escapism and healing at the same time.
To keep up with the newest work from Ethan Daniel Davidson, check out his bandcamp.