“I’ve got that Supertouch
Chances are I’ve got too much
I’ve come to let you see
That you can also be free…”
You probably didn’t expect a biography about Alana Davis to begin with a quote from
the legendary hardcore pioneers Bad Brains, but after listening to Davis’ smooth blend of
jazz and soul, you probably also didn’t expect to find out that she’s a huge Bad Brains
Well, she is.
Born in Greenwich Village to a hippie mother and a jazz musician father--the hard be-
bop piano-playing Walter Davis Jr.—it’s no surprise that Davis gravitated to music at a
young age. Although her dad played with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, it wasn’t
piano that Alana Davis took an early shine to. Transfixed by the percussive cadences of
the bass, Davis got her first bass guitar at age eleven and immediately started putting in
the hours on the instrument.
Blessed with a beautiful singing voice and a real sense of the low rhythmic grooves of the
bass, at age twelve Davis did what anyone would do with those two gifts.
She got a fake I.D. and started going to see hardcore shows at CBGB’s.
Davis loved the raw power and spirit of hardcore but she was utterly captivated by the
sheer energy, mystical truths and spiritual rush of the legendary Bad Brains. Davis found
the band’s music to be a stabilizing and life-affirming element in an altogether confusing
What wasn’t confusing for Davis was growing up in the vibrant and artistic Greenwich
Village. The bohemian capitol of the world, it was a haven for outsiders, the birthplace of
the Beat Generation and a refuge for the various counterculture movements.
And it was her home.
But, like many teenagers, Davis never felt in step with everyone else and music was a
way for her to not only express herself, but a way for her to feel steady during the
unsteady years of adolescence.
After high school Davis had the semblance of a plan in place—play bass in a reggae band
and work as a statistician.
And you thought I threw you off with the Bad Brains reference…
While in college Davis discovered she had a proclivity for statistics—there was
something reassuring and grounding about how some problems had finite answers--but
(spoiler alert), data interpretation would not be the career path she ended up taking.
After a few years singing in clubs with guitarist Marc Stone, Davis signed to Elektra and
put out two records with the label—1997’s Blame It On Me and 2001’s Fortune Cookies.
The former spawned the ubiquitous radio hit “32 Flavors” and garnered Davis a Grammy
nomination, while the latter was critically lauded and hailed by outlets ranging from
Rolling Stone to Time Magazine.
But by 2002 Davis had grown disenchanted with the record label business and decided to
go it alone. She formed Tigress Records and put out the fabulous Surrender Dorothy
album in 2005.
In 2006 Davis sang on tour with the D.C. dub electronica outfit Thievery Corporation and
…well, then that was it for a while.
At that point Davis’ resume’ was packed with the kind of career highlights any musician
would dream of: she’d toured with Ben Harper and Ziggy Marley, collaborated with
Pharrell and Jay-Z and had her music featured in a Super Bowl commercial. But, in spite
of her winning CV, Davis decided to step back for a bit.
She got married, she had a daughter and though she wasn’t making records, she was
writing songs, playing guitar and singing Aretha Franklin tunes in the shower.
In other words, she never stopped making music.
That said, Davis’ new album Love Again is not only a triumphant return to form, it’s
marks a giant artistic move forward.
And it’s arguably her best work yet.
Produced by Davis herself and mixed by Neil Case, Love Again is a percussive blast of
jazz flecked with reggae and sheer acoustic soul. From the sexy sway of “Pretty Like
Money” to the island shuffle of “Get Along” to the biting closer “The Dark Ones,” on
this record Davis is clearly at the height of her powers.
“This album took almost no time to write,” she recalls. “I was living in Jamaica at the
time, and, long story short, the breadfruit trees had begun talking to me...giving me ideas
and answering questions and giving me more questions. I became very inspired, so much
so that I was going to burst like a kitten in a microwave if I didn’t find a way to get it
Relax. No kittens were harmed during the writing of Love Again—Davis is only kidding.
But she’s not kidding about the urgency of her inspiration. Artistically revived by island
life, she got straight to work at crafting what would be her new album.
Of that process, Davis says: “I sought out my spot, with a clear view of the horizon over
the Caribbean Sea, and not a soul to trouble me (solitude) and I went there every day, and
stayed all day, (aside from trips to the patty Shoppe or the lunch spot on the corner for
Ackee and a Magnum) for about two weeks until it was all out of my system. Cleansed, I
returned to the USA the very next week to begin the process of baking up this breadfruit
and ocean air layer cake.”
Featuring the Eurhythmics’ Dave Stewart on guitar on some tracks, Love Again is a rich
and moving tapestry filled with bluesy swagger (“Fuck Friend”), aching soul
(“Getaway”) and wrenching, emotional ballads (“What A Mess”).
So the good news is that Alana Davis is back. And the even better news is that she’s not
going anywhere. She plans to keep making records, keep playing live and, truth be told,
keep singing songs in the shower.
For Davis, the future is indeed looking bright and busy.
And in an unpredictable world, that’s a pretty good forecast to have.
“Well, we are all doomed, clearly,” she laughs. “I figure we should have as much fun as
possible, and breed responsibly, as there’s no telling if they’ll even be water left for our
kids by the time our party is done.”
by Alex Green