Demons & Angels
Limited Edition, Ltd ed.
Import, Box Set
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Rev. Gary Davis is one of the giant figures in early blues and gospel music. This 3-CD box set contains 57 tracks and features many of his greatest performances, many never released before.
When folk revivalists all of a sudden became fascinated with country-blues performers of the early 20th century, no one had to go into the sticks to find Reverend Gary Davis. Though he'd stopped recording, Davis was an active street singer and preacher in Harlem throughout the 1940s. In the 1950s, folklorists, fans, and followers began to seek him out to hear him play, record him, and learn from him. Stefan Grossman, now a respected guitarist in his own right, was one of his longtime students, and he's compiled this wonderful three-disc box set, complete with detailed song notes and an essay that explores Davis's pre-New York days. Disc 1 features rare recordings made by Columbia University student John Gibbons in 1958 and 1959, and it focuses mostly on Davis's instrumental prowess: a thoroughly matchless fingerpicking guitar style that fused bits of jazz, blues, and ragtime into a highly personal technique. In addition to the many instrumentals on the first disc, there are some of Davis's most spellbinding vocal performances, especially "Crucifixion" (which blends singing and preaching) and "Don't Know Where to Go." Disc 2 includes home recordings from the mid-1960s, while the final disc of live recordings shows off his stage charisma and command. Demons and Angels clearly displays the breadth of Reverend Gary Davis's talent and material--from pop songs to "holy blues" and age-old folk--and is quite a welcome boon to his devoted fans and anyone else looking to discover one of the genre's inimitable talents. Beyond that, it will have aspiring (and even accomplished) acoustic guitarists staying up half the night trying to figure out exactly how the good Reverend played what he played. --Marc Greilsamer
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The box set is done right and includes a 35-page book the size of the box. Contained in the book are a 6-page bio, song lyrics, the songs key, some historical perspective for most of the songs, and a long list of published & online resources.
Gary Davis stopped playing blues in the fourties,and it's a great chance to hear him play it here.BUt if you buy this set,please start listening to "sporting life blues",(no,it's not Brownie McGhee's,even if the melody and chords are close to it),this is an amazing guitar solo which will drive you directly into Gary Davis' music.And Lord,what a sound!!!I won't try to tell you about all the songs,there are too many,and they're all amazing;the only regret I have,like another reviewer said,is that Gary Davis' masterpiece,"death don't have no mercy",doesn't figure here.Too bad.But there are other masterpieces: "God's gonna separate",for example;or many others.Nothing here has to be rejected.This here is an absolute concentrate of talent.Gary Davis is one of my favorite musicians for twenty years,one of my favorite guitar players,of course,and one of the most magnificent voices I've ever heard also.I think this 3 CD set is the first opus to buy,if you really wish to be introduced to the Reverend's music.Every minute of music played or sung by Gary Davis is one of the most essential ones of all times,so don't miss this magnificent set,full of things that have never been heard,full of noise and fury.Some of the most important music of the 20th century is here.The booklet is a fine one,and there are many lyrics transcribed.Sorry,you won't find the tablatures.So,try to find the Reverend's chords;good luck,sincerely.
A whole disc is devoted to recordings of him playing in his house. The listener will find that the mic is often moved around loudly, people in the house talk in the background, and various other ambient noises can be heard. Thus, again do not expect a polished recordings from a studio. Instead, expect a lazy performance of a Sunday afternoon sitting in his parlor.
I would recommend that newbies start with "Pure Religion, Bad Company", "Harlem Street Singer" and "Live at Newport" as the first discs in a set. I first bought Pure Religion, Bad Company almost twenty years ago and in the intervening years I've had to rebuy it three times - because before the advent of the MP3 player, I actually wore the discs out. I love that disc beyond all reason (in fact, the only other disc I've worn out through repeated playing was Tom Waits' Big Time).
All that said, if you're a serious Gary Davis head, then BUY THIS DISC SET. And if you're attempting to play Country Blues, this is an absolutely MANDATORY BUY. If you listen carefully, you will notice all sorts of new licks, counterpoint progressions, and variations on his more well known songs. That alone is worth the price of admission.
This material will show you the warts of his playing. His musical doodles. The limits of his amazing virtuosity, even as he was in the twilight years of his life. I cannot thank Stefan Grossman and the publisher enough for this disc set.