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Music Review: Guy Davis – The Adventures of Fishy Waters: In Bed With the Blues

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“There is no tale so tall I cannot tell it, nor song so sweet I cannot sing it.” – Guy Davis

Even in the current flood of contemporary blues singers releasing impressive collections of new material, The Adventures of Fishy Waters: In Bed With the Blues is something special. It’s unique, entertaining, and often surprisingly powerful.

The two discs are not just a collection of songs. Rather, this release is a CD edition of a one-man audio play that Guy Davis has been polishing since 1994. It’s a tour de force in the truest sense of the term. On one level, Davis is an actor portraying his alter ego, the train-hopping hobo Fishy Waters. He also portrays various characters the hobo meets or hears about on the road. Davis is a gruff-voiced blues singer, a virtuoso acoustic and bottleneck guitarist, and an accomplished harp player. Additionally, Davis fleshes out Fishy’s stories (set in the pre-World War II south) by mixing story-songs with narrations. He spices these with sound effects that include animals, rowing oars, stomping in a swamp, a campfire, and of course a train.

Disc one introduces us to the aging Fishy, who talks and sings about his hobo past. He offers character sketches and tells tall tales to set up his original songs, which accompany blues classics originally by the likes of Robert Johnson, Reverend Gary Davis, Blind Willie McTell, and Big Bill Broonzy. Many of Fishy’s narrations emulate similar far-fetched yarns from 19th century literary masters like Mark Twain, Artemus Ward, and Josh Billings. For example, the tale of a silkworm getting drunk on “Thundershot” booze is full of the exaggerated imagery of early American humorists. Then, after the string of entertaining stories, Davis gets serious and describes the horrors of Southern racism with a vivid, shocking description of a black teenager’s lynching. Thereafter, he uses ironic humor to illustrate the horrors of being black during an era in which responding to white suppression could result in terrifying consequences.

Leaving listeners with deep questions to ponder, Davis returns on disc two with the story of Fishy’s long journey from rebellious youth to his introduction to hard road life. He begins with a series of stories about his favorite uncle, an alcoholic bluesman named Juno who gave his nephew his guitar while on his deathbed. After that, Fishy learns the ways of being alone on the road when he encounters a group of seasoned hobos by a campfire. He meets and hears the backgrounds of a series of tramps who ultimately help him make a life-changing choice—pursue his dream of going to Nashville, or make the wiser decision to go to Chicago, away from the harsh Southern racism they describe.

The Adventures of Fishy Waters: In Bed With the Blues is a musical and theatrical experience. It’s almost a time capsule of the roots of the blues and the harsh circumstances that created them. It’s a flashback to when hearing stories was an evening’s entertainment, when one man could make his friends and family laugh out loud, sit in rapt wonderment waiting for the unexpected punch lines, or dance with the driving guitar. Even if you’re not a blues fan, don’t miss this one. This production deserves—and no doubt will—garner award nominations.

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