Singer and songwriter Stephanie Davis has issued four albums in the last 11 years. While she's not prolific, it hardly matters. Her Big Sky country brand of country music is big on soul, style, and craft. If there is one performer who embodies the character and timelessness of what's left of the American West, it's Davis. She has the root and grain of tradition, from Bob Wills' Western Swing to the cowboy songs of the Sons of the Pioneers, the modern poetic irony of Nanci Griffith, and the humor of Asleep at the Wheel, but she doesn't come from Texas -- even though this set was recorded in Austin. Like author Tom McGuane, she sees the everyday life of her state with wonder, irony, and tenderness. Given that she's a songwriter, she comes out of the country tradition, but does not let it bog her down, and she doesn't fall for the muddied clichés of modern "Americana." Davis and the many friends who accompany her here, celebrate the uniqueness of her home state's terrain and open spaces in "Something About Montana" to a loping Western Swing gait. On "Talkin' Harvest Time Blues," with a ringing dobro and lilting fiddle, she celebrates the strangeness and charm of modern gardening. But it is on the title track, with its shimmering acoustic guitars and skeletal lead fills that Davis' real gift fully reveals itself: here is the side of Montana no one ever sees, where its majesty is revealed in the fragility of the crocus' lavender blossom and in the magical process of embracing the first breath of spring as a sign of resurrection, personal, spiritual, and physical. And in these first three songs, the listener is allowed to glimpse the depth and breadth of Ms. Davis' world. Like the poet Mary Oliver, Davis has a way of marrying the natural, the mundane, and the supernatural. Via the considerable acumen of her craft, she translates them in a manner that inspires first empathy, and then longing in her listeners. It can be heard in the weeping pedal steel heartbreak of "Just Passin' Through," the hillbilly jazz stomp of "Yodel Blues," with Ranger Doug on yodel, the drawling country gospel of "Turning to the Light," with Garrison Keillor singing bass, in the rollicking polka of "You've Been a Friend to Me," with Ray Benson himself jumping in to add humor and dimension, and in the simple sweetness of the lullaby "Goodnight Cowpup," that closes the album. This is Davis' finest moment, and an album that in its unflinching tenderness and utter lack of sentimentality, is a reflection of the very best in American music of and from its enigmatic West.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek