When Tanya Davis performs, her fingersmove fluidly over guitar strings. She sings in a low and clear voice, annunciating each word. Some say they hear a hint of a PEI lilt in it. Her lyrics are personal---"straight ahead," as she puts it. Davis says she didn't look for her voice: It was there as soon as she shed her high school shyness, her Catholicism, her sexual restrictions and her hair. "As soon as I was feeling comfortable with myself, enough to be genuine and vulnerable," she says. "When you are honest and forthright, it comes with that."
Three or four years ago, Davis was doing community development work in Vancouver. She had a good job, a nice apartment and friends, but she wasn't happy. "I felt like my creativity was really thwarted at that point in my life," she says. "I didn't have that much that really inspired me." In "Gorgeous Morning," the title track of Davis' new album, she reflects on that time and on the morning when she decided to leave her job and leave BC, singing: "It makes for bad digestion when you are crying onto your toast, and if that's how breakfast goes, you know you're in for it."
The move from BC took Davis back home to PEI to regroup before she moved "with intention" to Halifax just over two-and-a-half years ago. "I knew Halifax had a thriving music community, and I felt drawn here," she says. It was here that she released her first album, Make a List, in 2006. A collection of music-backed spoken word and songs, Make a List was nominated for four Music Nova Scotia Awards and four Music PEI Music Awards. The CD also inspired fan mail---including a request for a copy of Davis' lyrics for a masters' dissertation.
Since Make a List, Davis has grown as a writer and performer. She says she liked performing from the get-go, but she likes it more after two years of touring and playing shows. She's also changed her sound: She's switched from acoustic to electric guitar, and written more songs than poems.
Recorded this past fall, winter and spring by Charles Austin at Echo Chamber Audio, Gorgeous Morning features Davis on guitar and bass, Ben Ross and Jason Burns on drums and percussion, Don Brownrigg on piano, glockenspiel and accordion, Kris Pope on electric and lap steel guitars, Danny Ledwell on keys and Sean MacGillvary on synthesizers. Sweet trumpet parts float in and out, care of David Myles.
In rhythmic opener "Thesaurus," Davis resists categorization: "Seemingly I do not fit the description listed," she sings, "be it poet, cheater, straight girl or crooked." "Art," from Make a List, is revisited with help on the chorus from many of the musicians, as well as from Davis' roommate and friend, singer/songwriter Catherine MacLellan. The backup vocalists also holler great doo-wop vocals on "Baby Lion" (about how the death of a kitten helped renew a friendship) and return at the end of the album calling out "Fire it up!" in kick-yourself-in-the-ass song "Do More."
Gorgeous Morninggets delicate with "The River Runs," a song of love and heartbreak. Davis sings of falling for someone despite her fears that it will end. But she's tough about it: "The river runs and we will not tame it, hearts break, just face it."
The album is prettiest during "Firebug." Jenn Grant harmonizes while Davis tells a story of a magical night at a barn party, when she was surrounded by fireflies. She was on a hard tour, but that moment helped her recommit to making music. "It was a reminder...of why I love to do this," she says.
Davis doesn't mind sharing her life with friends and strangers. At a recent show she talked about still being Catholic when she started to think that she was queer. "I like for people to know who people are and for people to know who I am," she says.
Davis will release Gorgeous Morning June 19 at the North Street Church, backed by many of the musicians and singers on the album. She promises old songs, new songs, poems and stories. "I'll definitely talk," she says.
Tanya Davis Gorgoeous Morning release, Thursday, June 19 at the North Street Church, 5657 North St., 8pm, $10adv (Lost & Found, 2383 Agricola)/$12 door