The Rev. Gary Davis was, by all accounts, an incredible guitaristone who influenced everyone from Taj Mahal to the Grateful Deadwho seemingly mastered everything he wanted to do with the instrument. However, over his long career he was recorded only sporadically, and most of his recordings have been released posthumously. Davis was more of a live performer, and never ventured into the studio all that often, which makes the unearthed home recordings of At Home and At Church 1962-1967 a treat for Davis fans.
Here's how it all went down: Stefan Grossman, a student of Davis' and the founder of Kicking Mule Records, took a tape recorder to the guitarist's home on several occasions between 1962 and 1967, to record informal some sessions. The quality of the recordings, as might be expected, is a little dodgy; there's some warble in the tape and Davis' guitar isn't quite in tune. Also, Davis seems fairly relaxed, delivering off-the-cuff performances that aren't polished he's not out to impress anybodyand seem like works in progress rather than finished compositions. For some reason, Davis also uses a 12-string on several tunes, which tends to muddy the sound of his finger-picking and amplify the need to tune up.
But despite these flaws, these three CDs display all the charm that might be expected from a guy who completely mastered his style years before. These songs all sound like they could have been recorded forty years earlier, and thus have the timeless quality that all good folk music has. Davis' playing has a charming imprecision to it; his guitar playing and singing are rough-hewn but earnest and seemingly effortless. Not much of the secular here, which fits Davis' other occupation. There are, however, three versions of the famous "Candyman," including one on banjo, that make the same song sound completely different, but equally stunning.
The Reverend was also devoted to his churchhe longed to be remembered for that work more than his musicand much of the third disc is devoted to recordings of church services. This is the real contribution Grossman makes to Davis' legacy, as many have not heard this side of the legendary guitarist. It's obviously a relatively small congregation that joins in on the traditional hymnsprobably done from memory, with no hymnalsand nods in assent to Davis' exhortations. Not something that most will listen to more than once, perhaps, but still worthy of a spin.
Today it's hard to appreciate how unusual Davis' contributions sounded, in a world where this type of playing is now a lot more prevalent on movie soundtracks and National Public Radio, but at the time of these recordings there weren't a whole lot of guys doing this kind of thing with Davis' influence. At Home and At Church is not the best introduction to Davis' music, but there's enough here to demonstrate why budding guitarists were beating down his door.
CD1: Twelve Sticks; Sally, Where'd You Get Your Liquor From?; Babylon Is Falling; What could I Do?; Children of Zion; Hesitation Blues; Candyman; Steal Away And Pray; Goin' To Chattanooga; Packing Up, Get Ready to Go; Untitled; You Cry Because I'm Leaving; Don't Let My Baby Catch You Here; Lord Let Me Live Longer; I Want To Be Saved; Waltz Time Candyman; Little Boy Who Made Your Britches; Talks About Verses Not Sung; C Rag; Two Step Candyman. CD2: Piece Without Words; Lord Search My Heart; Slippin' To My Gal Comes In Partner;Sun Is Going Down; Raise A Ruckus Tonight; Save Up your Money, John D. Rockefeller Put the Panic On; Soon My work Will All Be Done; You're Gonna Need King Jesus; I'm Going Back To Jesus; Blues In C; Saddle It Around; People Who Used To See; Italian Rag; Candyman; Nobody Don't Care For Me; Fox Chase; Talk On Blind Boy Fuller. CD3: Amazing Grace; Sermon; I'm A Soldier In the Army Of the Lord; Sermon; Lord, I Feel Like Just Goin' On; Steal Away; Can't Make This Journey By Myself; Sermon; I Will Overcome Someday; God Be With You; From the Mariposa Folk Festival: I Got Religion I'm So Glad; I'm A Soldier In the Army of the Lord.