Sunday Star-Times - Mike Alexander (5 Stars)
The dichotomy of old haunts is that they can be unforgettable memories that either burden you or liberate you. New Zealand singer Coco (Colleen) Davis' old haunts are the voices of a bygone era etched in the sorrow and joy of lives hard lived. From the opening track, Geeshie Wiley's slow burning lament Last Kind Words, Davis and her partner and collaborator Tom Rodwell evoke the spirits of some of the US's most significant female singers who were as quintessential to the development of the blues as Robert Johnson was. The three Bessie Smith tracks are as raw and earthy with thumping rhythms as they are sensual and sassy. Davis is a rare talent who belongs on the international stage.
Elsewhere.co.nz - Graham Reed
Taking on old blues or standards can be a tough game, because often you invite comparison you can't win. (Why would anyone cover BB King's Thrill is Gone for example.) But singer Coco Davis with guitarist / multi-instrumentalist Tom Rodwell and band (sax, piano etc) neatly dance through the minefield by either taking the old songs from the Thirties and Forties in different directions (notably courtesy of Davis' nightclub / jazz noir delivery), throwing in some light funk shapes or through additional spook elements in the production (by Davis and Rodwell). Devil's Gonna Get You - associated mostly with Bessie Smith - now emerges as something hauled from a swamp at the back of Tom Waits' shed and In My Girlish Days has a slinkiness to it no one in the Thirties could have imagined. Catch this classy act and these blues reinventions at the Q Theatre in Auckland on Saturday April 16.
Radio New Zealand - Nick Bollinger
‘I’m going down to the cemetery, ‘cause the world is all wrong, down there with the spooks to hear ‘em sing my sorrow song’, sings Coco Davis in ‘Cemetery Blues’, first recorded in the 1920s by the great Bessie Smith. And there’s more like that on Old Haunts, Coco Davis’s excellent debut. Most of the songs are of this vintage, yet she transposes them to a place that is not pre-war Mississippi but doesn’t feel like 21st century New Zealand either. It’s an eerie place, a kind of haunted house where the ghosts of these old tunes seem to gather. And it is surely no coincidence that a supernatural theme runs through the selection.
But if the ghoulish theme is consistent, there is plenty of variation in the musical settings, which range from dark grungy funk to a shimmering space-age lounge music.
Davis sings like Peggy Lee in purgatory and gets great backup from a small coterie of players, in particular guitarist Tom Rodwell, who featured prominently on Don McGlashan’s latest album and produced Old Haunts with Davis. Rodwell’s guitar and occasional vocal lends accompaniment and counterpoint to Coco’s voice throughout the disc.
Adding anything original or credible to the tradition that is the blues is a tall order; even more so if you are as far away from its Mississippi origins as it is possible to be. But Coco Davis achieves that improbable brief. Old Haunts is smart and spooky, funny, and at times, funky as hell.
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Read full transcript below:
“Here’s a song that saw its first recording 85 years ago, but its plated melody still has the power to haunt, and this new interpretation does just that…”
“The song, Last Kind Words Blues, originates with a singer and guitar player named Geeshie Wiley, about whom very little is known. She came from Mississippi or maybe South Carolina, toured and recorded around the American south until about 1933, after which, who knows. But the version we are hearing right now is being preformed by a local singer, Coco Davis, and there is something Davis finds in the old blues like these that transcends time and place…”
“That’s another tune from the 1920s – Bessie Smith’s Cemetery Blues, and there’s a lot more on Coco Davis’ ‘Old Haunts’. Davis has made a whole album of songs of roughly this vintage, which she transposes to a place that’s not pre-war Mississippi, but doesn’t really feel like 21st century New Zealand either. It’s an eerie place, a kind of haunted house, where the ghosts of these old songs seem to gather and it’s surely no coincidence the supernatural theme runs right through the selection…”
“That’s another Bessie Smith tune, but Davis sings it like Piggy Lee in Purgatory, and she gets great backup on that track from pianist Art Terry, and guitarist Tom Rodwell. Rodwell, who featured prominently on Don Mcglashan’s latest album, Lucky Stars, produced Old Haunts, and his guitar and occasional vocal lends accompaniment and counterpoint to Coco’s voice throughout the disk…”
“That’s Davis, channeling the spirit of Bessie Smith yet again, on yet another dark tale of death and retribution. But if the ghoulish theme is consistent throughout the album, there’s plenty of distribution in the musical settings, which range from dark grungy funk to a shimmering, space age lounge music…”
“Adding anything original or credible to the tradition that is the blues is a tall order, even more so if you’re as far away from its Mississippi origins as it’s possible to be. But Coco Davis achieves that impossible brief. Old Haunts is smart, spooky, funny, and at times, funky as anything. Coco Davis and Tom Rodwell are just coming to the end of the first half of what promises to be a two-part tour. They’ve already taken their southern haunted music to such evocatively named nightspots such as, Oruru’s, Swamp Palace, and Wairau Valley’s Dharma Bums Club, and they’ll be playing on Thursday the 28th of January at the Wine Cellar in Auckland, with the second half of the tour to be planned for March or April. It will be well worth catching them, and in the meantime, you can hunker down at home with a copy of Old Haunts…”