I have a confession to make: I am inherently suspicious of confessional albums with a message. So when I received a copy of Anne Davis' "Letters, Prayers, and Journal Entries"—which, by the way, is a very confessional piece of work—I had my misgivings about doing a review. As I glanced through the lyrics, credits and art work on the record, it became clear to me that Davis, a Jackson native and longtime Nashville resident, is serious about showing the world who she is, where she's been and how serious she is about her faith. I braced myself for a listen, thinking that this must be yet another earnest female singer-songwriter with a beautiful voice and not much new to say.
One listen to this record, however, eliminated any misgivings I had. Anne Davis' debut is an extremely well-conceived and well-executed collection. Lyrically, Davis' main focus does seem to be on very personal matters of faith and experience but, like fellow Mississippian Neilson Hubbard, even the songs that seem to be based on feelings of Christian love somehow work when interpreted romantically. Let's face it: love is love, right?
A particular lyrical highlight is "Temple of Contradictions," a tough-minded song about spiritual self-examination, guilt and doubt—all themes that apply to issues of both faith and romance. "No, I'm Not Going Anywhere" is another song that delves into matters of faith, and the intimacy of depending on others—worldly and otherwise— for support. It's a wonderful song.
What defines "Letters, Prayers and Journal Entries," however, are Davis' fantastic sense of melody and the unique instrument of her voice. Throughout the record, Davis' writing and arrangement shine through, as dramatic and unexpected chord changes add depth and complexity to the tunes that are all too absent in the work of most of today's songwriters. Rather than settling for a song to go in the safest, prettiest direction, Davis seems to strive for an emotional connection in her music, and it works. Davis' unique vocal phrasing, with its breathy soulfulness, is another facet that sets this record apart.
It is also worth noting that "Letters, Prayers and Journal Entries" is an extremely well-made album. Davis has clearly surrounded herself with excellent musicians; there are tasteful glimpses of various instruments such as cello, violin and accordion, that complement the purposefully sparse arrangements. Mississippian Shane Martin provides especially outstanding acoustic guitar work. Davis' voice is recorded particularly well; throughout the record her tremulous vocals get a well-deserved center stage in the mix.
"Letters, Prayers and Journal Entries" was a delightful surprise, and a pleasure to review. It reminds me of the best work of Nashville alt-folk songwriters like Kim Richey, and sometimes even brings to mind Lillith Fair-type rock. Davis recently moved back to Jackson from a stint in Nashville. We music fans are lucky to have her back.
Her CD is available at Be-Bop Record Shops, Family Christian Stores, and at http://www.annedavismusic.com
Eric Stracener is a lawyer and songwriter in Jackson.
Reviewed by Eric Stracener