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Davy Knowles: Best of the Bootlegs 2017

Doug Collette By

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Davy Knowles inaugurated a monthly series of live concert downloads during the course of 2017. As the title denotes, Best of the Bootlegs 2017 is purportedly the proverbial cream of that digital crop, and the approximately seventy-five minute CD fairly well depicts the live presentations of the Isle of Man native.

The collection succeeds in part because the acoustic mini-sets Knowles favors are represented here, albeit in the shortened form. He will usually play a handful of tunes when commandeering the stage alone, but this inclusion of just a pair is worthy for "Amber's Song" alone: by both structure and subject, this delicate homage to Davy's spouse suggests he might well garner a pop hit someday. No less close to Knowles' heart, but decidedly more intense—almost feverishly so in fact—is "First Words Of A Changing Man," which suggests the roadwork from which these cuts are derived is the very process by which the guitarist/vocalist/songwriter enacts, then reflects upon his personal metamorphoses.

Davy Knowles often hearkens to the late Sixties age of contemporary electric blues, and favorably so. One such instance is "Coming Up For Air," which echoes the great British quartet Free. A more direct homage to his roots appears at other junctures. "Outside Women Blues," for instance, is one of Eric Clapton's spotlight's on Cream's Disraeli Gears (Atco, 1967), an overt tribute to the archetypal guitar hero, an influence later reinforced through the integration of that seminal power trio's take on "Spoonful" within the original "Come Home."

The omission of songwriting credit to Howlin' Wolf for that literal reference is odd, but no more so than that afforded David Crosby for "Almost Cut My Hair." While the chord progression of "Falling Apart" echoes that tune, Davy sings none of the original Byrd's lyrics during this foreboding slow blues. And while the back cover also lists "Dear Mr. Fantasy" as track six, it is, in fact, the final of these eleven tracks; that oversight aside, the Traffic tune remains proof positive of the element of surprise arising from this man's concerts, here supplying a splendid denouement for this set, in large part because the double-time section at the end is tailor-made for one of Knowles' patented displays of fiery guitar heroism.

Unfortunately, it also reaffirms a nagging impression of less than resplendent sound quality here. Admittedly, the artist himself describes it as "rough and ready," but the often two-dimensional nature of the recording(s), rather than replicate the sonics of vintage blues recordings, threatens to undermine the intensity of the musicianship. That it ultimately does not speaks volumes about the often incendiary intervals like "Coming Up For Air."

The frontman's three accompanists are with him every step of the way here at high speed. And even at the more stately gait at which they proceed during "Oxford, MS," bassist/vocalist Marvin Little and drummer/vocalist Michael Caskey are not at all averse to prodding their leader, while keyboardist Andrew Toombs has nurtured a knack for filling in the spaces in the otherwise sparse instrumental outline.

Hopefully, Best of the Bootlegs 2017 is just the first in an extended series of similar and more polished releases. Additional detail on the sources of the recordings, as well as more professional audio, can only reaffirm the inherent power of Davy Knowles' work as a modern artifact of the blues.

Track Listing: Catch The Moon; Gov’t Row; Coming Up For Air; Outside Women Blues; Falling Apart; First Words Of A Changing Man; Amber’s Song; Oxford MS; Come Home; Gotta Leave; Dear Mr. Fantasy.

Personnel: Davy Knowles: guitar, vocals; Andrew Toombs: keyboards; Marvin Little: bass, vocal; Michael Caskey: drums, vocals.

Title: Best of the Bootlegs 2017 | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Self Produced

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