Primary Instrument: Guitar
In the wide world of American music, certain bands have a way of building an exciting life for themselves away from the glare of national attention. Much of that is because of the relationship the group has with its fans. It usually starts in small clubs or even backyards in their hometown, then spreads to nearby cities, neighboring states and soon across entire regions, until the band finally comes into its own as a national presence.
The Benjy Davis Project is poised to take on that presence. They’ve spent the past seven years building fan strongholds around the U.S., releasing three albums that capture their unique force. Davis’s songs speak to the ability of music to move an audience, as seen in countless nights of touring and performing. There comes a point in a breakthrough band’s career where they finally turn that corner into greatness. With the release November 4th on Rock Ridge Music of the Benjy Davis Project’s album, “Dust,” this Baton Rouge, Louisiana-based band now moves into that moment.
“I want to reach people and hopefully touch them in some way.” That’s how Benjy Davis describes his mission, and music is his medium. It’s always been that way for him, since he was a young teenager in Louisiana, listening to everything on the radio, taking it all in until it would be his time to step up and become an artist. He formed the Benjy Davis Project in 2001, which began as a simple folk-rock duo but soon grew into one of the most popular bands in Baton Rouge. Eventually expanding into a six-piece group, the Project has recorded three albums prior to “Dust,” each a big leap from the one before, and played across the country as headliners and support act on shows with John Mayer, Better Than Ezra, North Mississippi All-Stars and others, as well as events like the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. All this experience has brought them to that place where they can become the next band to take their Southern-based sound to a new level of national popularity.
“Dust” was produced by David Z. (Prince, Fine Young Cannibals, Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Big Head Todd & the Monsters) and is the culmination of all the best creative parts from the band’s past, in a sound and style that proves they’re totally in the moment. “These sessions were more raw, more real,” Davis says. “David wanted to record us where we were and how we played at that moment in time. And we were introduced to more elements of the arrangement process, the architecture. And we did it in four days, so there was more pressure to perform, in a good way.” From that pressure, the Benjy Davis Project has made an album that highlights all their many strengths. From the emotional heights of “The Rain” and “Whose God?” to heartfelt romantic classics like “I Love You” and “Green and Blue,” the band sounds like they were in the right place at the right time with the perfect producer.
“These songs were much easier to write,” Davis explains. “I wasn’t thinking as much as feeling the songs out. I wasn’t making any lyrical changes or edits or anything that would take me elsewhere.” There is such a sound of emotional freedom on the album, it’s obvious the band has truly found themselves. The musical backdrop to each song frames Davis’s vocals in a way that brings out his most soulful expression. Like most great musicians, there is a point in their playing when natural abilities take over; it’s almost like an underwritten code that each member of the band now knows, and the way they interact with each other during the entire album signals that as a group, they’ve fully arrived.
The band feels they have a real sense of where their music comes from. As a cohesive unit they deliver honest and real music that people of all ages and tastes can relate to. There are so many moments of revelation on “Dust,” it’s clear that Benjy Davis and the band have achieved a defining moment in their career. When asked to describe this album, Davis has an interesting perspective, saying “I think it’s partly about realizing that someday I’ll be someone’s dead great-great-grandfather. And I want them to know what I said and why I said it. Not just that I was a singer and wrote some love songs.” The idea of permanence and heritage has always been at the heart of the Benjy Davis Project. Each member understands the proud tradition of Southern-influenced music, and has a lot to continue and uphold.
In the South, music is seen as a social glue that brings whole communities together, something listeners of all types can share as they experience it. Whether it’s soul, rock, country, jazz, zydeco or blues, there is a universal truth at the heart of those styles of music. The Benjy Davis Project is at the forefront now of bands blending those sounds into songs that speak to audiences everywhere. And “Dust” takes all those traditions to a brand new place, and elevates the band to new heights.