From Auckland to Austin to Nashville, New Jersey-based country musician Moot Davis took quite a journey to make his third CD, Man About Town, but it was certainly worth it. Davis describes his new release as the one he likes the most because “it wasn’t altered to suit anybody’s tastes but mine.”
Moot Davis burst onto the country music scene in the mid-2000s. With his self-titled debut, Davis delivered a set of timeless honky tonk that brought comparisons to Hank Williams Sr. Entertainment Today touted Davis as “primed to be the leader in the new insurgent country music scene.” The kudos continued for his second effort, Already Moved On, which about.com’s Kathy Coleman ranked as the Fourth Best Country Album of the Year, ahead of the likes of Dwight Yoakam and Brad Paisley.
Man About Town fulfills the promise of his earlier efforts while also expanding into new musical territory. Tracks like “Day the World Shook My Hand,” “How Long” and “Only You” should resonate with fans of his earlier, retro honky-tonk sound. “Queensbury Rules,” on the other hand, boasts a harder, rockier sound, while “Rust” mixes country twang with a funky beat. Davis wanted a change with this disc. “I didn’t want to make the same album again and again.”
In a sign of his artistic growth, Davis accomplishes several firsts on Man About Town. “Crazy in Love With You” stands as his first duet, with the delightful Elizabeth Cook serving as his singing partner. He also delivers his first murder ballad with “Black & White Picture,” a highly cinematic tale driven by Mexican-style guitar picking.
Davis populates this CD with a number of vivid character studies. The lead-off track, “Rags to Rhinestones,” is a prime example of his storytelling talents. In this classic honky-tonk number, a musician goes from “rented rooms to mansion homes” only to squander it all and wind up being kicked “out of bars on Lower Broadway.” The tune came together for Davis after his buddy, musician Dave Gleason, told him of a successful country musician whose life and career veered off course. Davis became intrigued by the idea of “someone who rises to a certain level and then just dive-bombs.”
The song’s Nashville references reflect the fact that this album is the first one Davis recorded in Music City. (His first two, released on Little Dog Records, were done with the esteemed producer Pete Anderson in Los Angeles.) The ace players on Man About Town are from Marty Stuart’s band: guitarist Kenny Vaughan, who served as producer; pedal and lap steel player Chris Scruggs; drummer Harry Stinson and bassist Paul Martin. Also featured is fiddler Hank Singer, who plays with George Jones. These guys, according to Davis, are “all serious players but they are all regular guys too.” He describes the sessions as “one of those things where everything comes together. It’s kinda rare.”
Man About Town marks a return to recording after a short hiatus as Davis extricated himself from his Little Dog contract. A bit disillusioned with the music business, he travelled to New Zealand to do some acting. There, he says, “I fell back in love with music” and started writing songs again on an acoustic guitar. He next moved to Austin, bought a Telecaster and continued working on his tunes. The music evolved even more upon his return to New Jersey, where he played with some local guys. “They’d rehearse for hours with me, just kicking songs around. It was kind of like a therapy session.”
Growing up in New Jersey, Davis actually was more into classic rock than country. In fact, he sparked to traditional country from an unusual source: a TV ad. In his early 20s, he heard Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart” in a Pepsi ad and, in Davis’ words, “it just got my antenna going.” He immersed himself in the music of Hank Sr., Lefty Frizzell, Webb Pierce and others from the golden era of honky tonk. This music inspired him to learn to play an acoustic guitar and start writing songs.
A major turning point came for him when he wrote the song “Whiskey Town.” When he played it for other people and saw their reactions, Davis recalls, “I knew I was onto something.” Within a year of writing that tune, he had moved to Nashville and a year later he was flying to L.A. to record with Pete Anderson. “Whiskey Town” also landed a spot on the Crash soundtrack — the first of now nearly 20 song placements that Davis has had over the years, from movies like The Hills Have Eyes to TV shows such as Criminal Minds.
Man About Town also is the first album on Davis’ his own label, Highway Kind Records. He started the label with Paul W. Reed, a Texas businessman who is a huge Davis fan. Davis marvels how this friendship developed and evolved into a business relationship too. “He really had some guts to help get this going,” Davis admits, adding, “I find it’s always better to be in charge of your own destiny.” Davis feels the current music scene has created a leveled playing field that allows the opportunity to achieve the American Dream if you work hard enough and have some talent. “Every success is a victory,” he exclaims — and with this new album, Moot Davis should have many more victories in his future.