Album Review: Davisson Brothers Band – Home Is Where The Heart Is

Review by Peter Coates –

Released – May 5th 2023
Red Dog Recordings

These down-home, bluegrass / country / rock / stomping country boys from the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia first appeared on the Aussie radar when the often prescient Michael Chugg pulled them across for CMC Rocks in 2018, and then got them back for some headline shows in 2019, and they certainly attracted some positive attention here for The Fighter album that they toured.

Davisson Brother Band are a genre blurring, mountain-rock band, and “Home” is more than the place they’re from.  It’s a force that shapes everything they do.  Led by front man Donnie Davisson, and his lead guitarist brother Chris Davisson, DBB are a band born of a truly unique American tradition, they are the physical and sonic embodiment of their home state, and their third album – Home Is Where the Heart Is – echoes with its sound, enhanced by some special production from Brent Cobb and David “Ferg” Ferguson.  The band includes long-time buddy Aaron Regester on the drums, and the boys nephew Gerrod Bee on bass, and this continues the family’s lengthy musical tradition

The brothers learned to play the Appalachian way, in community picking circles led by their father and uncle – who in turn learned from their elders … often picking up songs second hand from workers in the surrounding coal mines.  This style of guitar playing is evident from the recordings, and even more when the band is onstage – with the twin acoustic / slide guitar attack of the brothers and the intricate picking and fretwork which is equally at home in bluesy jam-bands as in the southern rock, country or bluegrass circles.

In preparing to write for this record, “My first thought was take some of our writer friends from Nashville, and get them out of Nashville,” Chris explains. “I wanted to put them together with some of our Jam Band/Bluegrass buddies and do something that’s never been done.  We ended up in South Carolina at a lodge, and it was a little nervous for me to see how this would go, but it was magic,” Chris continues.  “The country guys had never been in a bluegrass jam circle, and I’ve got the best mandolin guys, the best banjo guys, and here’s this country writer just soaking it all in for a week.  By the last two days, these songs just started coming out.”  They ended up with something like 100 songs to sift through, and quickly identified the core theme of “Home” as what they wanted to present on the album.

The opening notes of the fiddle intro to the title track Home, combined with the raw vocals over the gentle guitars, raises the hairs on the back of your neck immediately.  This is folk-blues of the highest quality, with soaring harmony vocals in the chorus, and a steady build-up of intensity before Chris lays out a wailing guitar solo.  After a drop back to the stripped-down sound, we get a round of choruses with a backing choir, while Chris rolls out more of the lead breaks.

A piano opens up the gospel-funk beat of Mountain High which combines the rootsy southern lyrics and guitar-picking with a memorable chorus full of warm backing vocals, and a ripper of a fiddle solo before the key-change into a new chorus which clearly pictures the boys around a fire pit in the mountains chasing vocal lines and harmonies around the circle.   This is quite special.  Appalachian Breeze is a gentle soulful ballad, written around a fiddle melody, that reeks of the boys’ love of family and home, while there is a swampy blues feel to Eastern Kentucky.  Donnie’s voice lends itself perfectly to this one, alongside the fiddle, banjo and guitars, while bass and drums keep this rolling along like the Monongahela River, slow and steady.  Another of the family, Nick Davisson got involved in the harmony vocals

Wild and Wonderful is an excellent pop song with a twang, and again sees the fiddle and banjo take leading roles on the song, making me wonder if they are going to have to take a couple of extra musicians on the road with them next time, to really deliver these new songs as they have been recorded.  Another soulful bluesy ballad is up next in Cross My Heart, written by Donnie and son Nick, given a different dimension with the electric piano sitting under the bassline, and the solo sees Chris deliver another slick little lead break.

I guess you know that DBB are a country band at heart when they offer up a song titled John Deere Tractor, but this is not the normal, redneck, driving, hunting, shooting type of Tractor song, but a classic country letter from a boy to his Mom, a cover version of an old bluegrass song that is given an immense boost from the inclusion of a big band kick drum providing a thunderous beat in the closing chorus.  The boys included Long Hard Road as a homage to their father and his brother who used to sing the song around the farm while they were growing up.  This has deep country roots in the lyrics that fit the theme of the record so well.

There is a hugely positive and upbeat vibe to She Ain’t Coming Back, with the bluegrass riff and banjo trickling along behind a slightly distorted guitar, and some tongue-twisting lyrics from Donnie, before a groovy piano, banjo and guitar outro that you want to go on for much longer.   The band have given an old song a new treatment with Life On Fire, that Donnie used to sing as an acoustic solo ballad as a live show interlude.  They decided to give it an up-tempo 1990’s feel, and it really works.

A glorious mix of voices and sounds has come out of a collaboration with old friend Sierra Ferrell, which saw Kyle Tuttle and partner Lindsay Lou belting out this melody of I’m Good With It over an ever-changing musical landscape delivered by multiple stringed instruments.  Chris Davisson describes Morningstar as “the song I have always wanted to write”, about a local Vietnam Vet, Mike Morningstar, who spent 50 years as a touring musician in and around WV with his Hickory Stick single string guitar.  A sparse acoustic track with no drums featuring Rob McCoury, this is an atmospheric ballad that cries out for the WV hills and hollers, and gives a very simple chord progression extra depth and scope through the tinkling of the banjo, and some ethereal harmony backing voices give an extra layer to the mix.

As part of the release of Home Is Where The Heart Is, rather aptly the band got to play at the Grand Ole Opry last weekend, a wonderful experience not to be forgotten

Donnie and Chris are a couple of the most sincere and welcoming folks that you could ever hope to meet, and I am forever grateful for the introduction to the songs and sounds of West Virginia that they have provided – one the ill-fated Nashville trip planned for 2020, we were intending to take a day trip out to Clarksburg to drop in on the family and see where this music has been grown and nurtured, in amongst the woods and meadows of WV.  Another time perhaps!!

Mountain High : 

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Davisson Brothers Band – Grand Ole Opry 2023

Live photos – Inside Edge Photography