“If you follow an artist purely based on looks, then shame on you; but if looks are what you would call a nice bonus added to already talented musicians, then I would suggest checking out Hunter Tynan Davis. Sporting a country-Adam Levine sort of style with a half-buttoned shirt and blue jeans, Davis jumped up on stage looking like the ever-ready rock star.
He started off the night with a few solo songs on his electric guitar, which was a nice change after the acoustic sets. The lyrics to his songs are uncomplicated and simple but are riddled with deeper meanings and relatable content. And while his solo set was charming, it didn’t grab the attention of the crowd like I wish it had. Davis then made a decision that completely changed the direction of his show: he invited a backup band onstage.
Suddenly it was like the world had turned on its axis and everyone was moving along (whether subconsciously or not) to the bluesy rock music. Davis’s grinding voice mixed with the detailed musical nuances one doesn’t normally hear in live music was intoxicating. Despite there being no spotlight on Davis, he didn’t have trouble catching the audience’s eye: his raw energy while playing and singing was electric. Whether it was a hard blues/rock song or a slow jazzy number, Davis seemed to take on the role of rock star like he was born into it.
Not one to take life too seriously, though, Davis displayed a joking manner just like the artists before him. When a crowd member demanded that he unbutton another button on his shirt, his pianist promptly did so for him, tearing at his shirt until it was open down almost to his belly button. Davis shrugged, smiled, and acted like he was bringing the low-cut shirts – made so popular by Led Zeppelin in the 70’s -back in style.
With a sound so intense and ready to cater to the masses of people eager for new music, it seems like Hunter Tynan Davis is already gearing up for the big stage limelight. Energy and drive like his will not be wasted; perhaps we’ll see him take to selling out arenas sooner rather than later.”
No Country For New Nashville
Writers of all stripes are often told to “write what they know.” For Nashville songwriter Hunter Tynan Davis, that opens up a whole lot of territory fertile for musical ideas. On his new album Ferris Wheel, produced by Wilco’s Ken Coomer, Davis offers up a stirring collection of songs that draw from his myriad eclectic influences, both musical and familial.
The son of “basically just two hippies,” as he puts it, Davis was born on the Gulf of Mexico and grew up alongside his parents and grandfather on his grandfather’s shrimp boat. The family eventually made semi-permanent landfall in southeast Texas, following in the footsteps of five generations before them.
Shrimping is just one piece of what Davis calls “his Forrest Gump story.” His paternal grandfather, Walter Buddy Davis, played professional basketball in the NBA and won the gold medal in the men’s high jump at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland, despite having polio as a child and being told he’d never walk. His father played basketball in Alaska and Hawaii before moving back to Texas, where he’d both earn a cut (“A Candle Burns in the Window of My Heart”) as a songwriter and work his way from bus driver to district lead for Texas congressman Charlie Wilson.
The younger Davis would go on to play division one college football, eventually deciding music was his true calling and heading back to Texas to pursue a degree in music. In 2011, Davis moved to Nashville and enrolled at Tennessee State University, where he began playing in blues trios and pursuing his musical passions in earnest.
“When I started songwriting, it was like I was taking over the family business,” Davis says. “It was very seamless in its transition.”
Davis is a “singer-songrocker,” a term he coined to better represent himself as a songwriter, musician, and performer. “Singer-songwriter portrayed it in too soft a light,” he says laughing. “So I came up with singer-songrocker. That’s my genre.”
On Ferris Wheel, Davis brings his kaleidoscopic worldview to his songs, imbuing the traditional hallmarks of Americana music — thoughtful arrangements, narrative songwriting — with a level of heart, soul, and warmth that isn’t often seen in a genre increasingly concerned with (often embellished) hardscrabble self-mythologizing and overwrought self-seriousness.
It was the title track that initially won Coomer over when the pair first met to discuss working together on what would become Ferris Wheel. Chatting with a buddy prior to the meeting, Davis learned that Coomer missed the country waltzes of the ’50s and ’60s, and wished more young artists would take the style seriously. Davis found his in.
“I went home that night and I wrote ‘Magnolia’ in about two hours, exactly the way you hear it on the record,” he says. “I played him ‘Magnolia.’ The first thing he said was, ‘Wonderful song. Is that a waltz?’ I didn’t tell him the whole story for about six months.”
After forging a musical kinship, Davis and Coomer, who also lent drums to Ferris Wheel, went into the studio, recruiting players Guthrie Trapp (Vince Gill, John Oates, Dolly Parton) on lead guitar, Maureen Murphy (Zac Brown Band, Will Hoge) on background vocals, and Laur Joamets (Sturgill Simpson) on steel and slide guitar.
One of the album’s standout tracks is “Best Is Yet to Come,” a soulful anthem about hanging in there when times are tough. “Perpetual optimism emanates out of every word, verse, and chorus,” Davis says of the track. “Lyrically, the positive direction is intentional and motivating, while the acoustic guitar riffs happily counterpoint the straightforward Americana rock vibe of the rhythm section.”
On the haunting ballad “Karma,” Davis has created what he calls a “spectral soundscape,” performed and recorded to mirror the lyrics’ visceral emotions. It’s both a sonic and narrative outlier, and grounds the other tracks’ warmth and optimism. “‘Karma’ is a slight departure from the overall positive outlook of the record, but provides a much needed balance of uncommon truth,” he says.
Davis has clearly led an unorthodox life, one that undoubtedly led him to many of the found truths he chronicles within Ferris Wheel‘s tracks. It’s a statement of an album, brought to us by an artist with plenty worth saying.