Today, the popular Local Spins series revealing the recordings that have impacted Michigan musicians most continues with award-winning singer-songwriter Joshua Davis.
EDITOR’S NOTE: All musicians trace their inspiration to key recordings that influenced their careers. Writer Ross Boissoneau today showcases music that changed the world for northern Michigan’s Joshua Davis. Scroll down for a Spotify playlist of his picks, plus two tracks of his own.
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A finalist on Season 8 of the NBC show, “The Voice,” Joshua Davis already was a familiar face to listeners around the state and the Midwest.
Whether fronting the band Steppin’ In It or as a solo act, his weathered voice (his description) and his folk-tinged songs had earned plaudits from critics and a growing audience. The TV exposure upped the ante, garnering him fans across the country. Davis followed that up with more recording and performing before the world shut down. That’s when he, like so many others, turned to livestreaming, which he continues today.
He’s since taken a position teaching songwriting at Interlochen Arts Academy, which he calls “ridiculously rewarding.” He’s also still performing, though not as much as he was pre-pandemic. He plays The Playhouse at White Lake in Whitehall on Jan. 6 and The Ark in Ann Arbor on Jan. 12 with Luke Winslow-King.
Here he gives his takes on three albums that were formative in his musical development and one he’s listening to today.
1. Mississippi John Hurt, “Today!” (1966) – My stepdad had a big record collection – he was a concert promoter and DJ. I’d pull records off the shelf after school. Mississippi John Hurt still is someone who I think of as a real archetypal figure, a mystical figure. It’s the first time I heard guitar played like that, that kind of fingerpicking. Also the songwriting – it was yearning, simple, eccentric and raw. It was recorded in an intimate way. It was super valuable, when I was falling in love with guitar. The singing is genuine, he’s not showing off. That opened the door to me for a lot of different stuff.
Listen: “Pay Day”
2. Joni Mitchell, “Blue” (1971) – My mom listened to a lot of 70s songwriters. Three she always listened to were the Band, Bob Dylan, (especially) “Blood on the Tracks,” and Joni Mitchell. The one that really got me was Joni Mitchell’s “Blue.” It’s my favorite album of all time. There’s a feeling of freedom. Her mastery of language and lyrics – she’s an incredible poet. She was touring Europe (while writing the songs) and it sounds like a travelogue. It’s really intimate, with light production. There are just a couple other musicians. It’s mostly her. It’s one of the most beautiful records ever made. I still listen to it.
Listen: “All I Want”
3. Kelly Joe Phelps, “Shine Eyed Mister Zen” (1999) – The third one is tough. There are so many out there. When I put this on, I realize how much I stole from him (laughs). He died just this past year. Again, it’s just him. The depth of feeling and concept; I think of him like an otherworldly performer.
Listen: “House Carpenter”
Currently Loving: Laurel Premo, “Golden Loam” (2021) – Laurel is a friend of mine. I’ve always loved her work, her depth of understanding of the lineage, historic understanding of Appalachian music and European music. She’s an incredible fiddler; this is an album of guitar. The emotion with which she plays is incredible, the knowledge of how to build momentum. Though it’s solo guitar it goes through Appalachian, pop, blues, West African. She’s an incredible player and incredible human being.
ALBUMS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD: Joshua Davis’ Playlist on Spotify
Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvR7Dkg4NQU
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