Ethan Daniel Davidson: Free the Ethan Daniel Davidson 5

Jason MacNeil

Musical variety and great lyrics are the spice of the Michigan born troubadour's life.

Ethan Daniel Davidson

Free the Ethan Daniel Davidson 5

Label: Times Beach
US Release Date: 2005-02-15
UK Release Date: 2005-03-07
Amazon affiliate

Michigan native Ethan Daniel Davidson returns on this album to the same turf he's been rolling around on previous records, namely the hallowed ground that people like John Prine and the late Woody Guthrie have walked before. Other people, including publications like The Village Voice, have seen him as a "cross between Willie Nelson and Arlo Guthrie." And they're not too far off the mark. Davidson might have a bit of satire or tongue-in-cheek throughout some of his lyrics and rather oddball song times, but he is more than capable of creating pensive, thoughtful music time and time again. This is evident on the rather light pop of "Conquered Beneath a Box-Car Moon", which has him singing and yet somewhat crooning at the same time. The tune glides along in a dreamy, Petty-like psychedelic haze, but it definitely seems to work. It also contains a sprinkling of for good measure before veering into a quasi-Southern-fried, Skynyrd-lite rock.

Davidson doesn't like to keep perfecting the same genre or format, so his adventurous side often takes over. "Woman/Ladder = You'll Get What You Deserve" is more up-tempo and rougher around the edges. Again, there's a nice melody steering the effort, but Jason Charboneau and Davidson wind some nice licks off of each other, sort of like Sloan circa Motor City Maniacs or Petty's right hand man Mike Campbell. The first true highlight, though, is the meandering and rather infectious "I Need You Like a House on Fire", resembling Wilco and Neil Young to a lesser extent. Counting the song in, Davidson sings lines like, "The moon will moon / Sky will crack / Before they stand the day that I take you back". The effect is one where you'll be swaying back and forth in your chair immediately. The subtle ivory tickles from Charles Hughes complement the slow, world-weary guitar lines accenting the end of several lines.

If there's one drawback, however, it's that some of these songs sag compared to others, particularly the murky, Delta blues touches of "Situationist National Commercial" which sounds like Richard Ashcroft fronting the Black Crowes. Fans of latter day Page and Plant collaborations might seek comfort in it, but few others will. This miscue is forgettable after a lovely folksy-meets-dreamy-meets-roots "Semi-Literate Cowboy Poem", a song that could've come straight from Jeff Tweedy's latest lyric scribbler. Meanwhile, the hokey honky-tonk of John Prine's "I Can't Drink You Pretty" sounds like a sleeper pick, as Davidson talks about how alcohol cannot improve beauty regardless of the beverage imbibed. It's the type of song few can cover well, perhaps only gals like Neko Case, Kelly Hogan, or Carolyn Mark, along with Davidson. And from there he pulls out another swampy, groove-filled, '70s Southern rocker, "Drive-By Diplomacy Blues", which hits its groove roughly two minutes in, sort of like Fleetwood Mac if they were inspired by Supertramp before going full throttle three minutes in. It's one of the album's better tracks.

One important aspect to the record is how the mood seems to change in terms of content and tone, with "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore", a fine punkish rocker that starts off with the energy of Steve Earle's "F the CC" or "The Revolution Starts…". Government isn't the only target, as big business gets its fair share on the swinging "King Coal Made a Mess of My Old Kentucky Home". Then Davidson flings arrows at Music Row and the corporate mentality with "Support the War on Nashville": "To maximize your music profit / Let downloaders push your product", he sings.

Perhaps if these homestretch songs weren't so close in the track listing they would fare better. Instead, it comes off a bit like these were tacked on at the last minute. The lone exception is the galloping, Johnny Cash-cum-Spaghetti Western "Carry Me Back to San Juan Hill". Davidson manages to keep the listener's ear throughout, from song one to the closing "A German Woman, an Irish Junkie, Their Three-Year-Old Daughter, nnd Me". Wordy titles? Yes. Adventurous? Yes. Damn good? Oh yes.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.