Debbie Davis stands out in the crowd of vocalists like a bird-of-paradise in a roomful of parakeets. Her voice is a magnificent, near-operatic instrument and her theatrical instincts are the stuff of Broadway musical-level performance.
When she takes the stage at Three Muses or d.b.a., one hand cocked saucily on her waist, the other brandishing a cocktail glass, she holds court with the authority of a Peggy Lee.
Her resonant, brassy voice immediately grabs the listener but she sustains that attention through the sheer force of her personality. Davis has been working in a supporting role for years as part of the Pfister Sisters, Paul Sanchez’s Rolling Road Show, Tom McDermott, and the cast of Nine Lives, but she is just coming into her own as a headline attraction.
Linger Til Dawn is only her second solo effort and the first with her dedicated band, which supports her like a fancy bustier. Pianist Joshua Paxton, guitarist Alex McMurray, and tuba master Matt Perrine build a lighter-than-air foil for Davis’ sturdy pipes, a great ensemble sound that features ingeniously crafted solos but, for the most part, pays close attention to its supporting role.
The balance of this arrangement makes for a superb set of jazz and pop standards, a universalist approach to songbook style that avoids classification as nostalgia peddling or period-recreation music. Davis sings American songbook classics like “Teach Me Tonight,” “Skylark” and “I Cover the Waterfront” as if they were just written for her; throws in a sassy rendition of the Kinks sing-along “Sunny Afternoon”; calls attention to her appreciation of Cass Elliot on “Dream a Little Dream of Me”; and plies a gorgeous duet with McMurray on the Lennon/McCartney ballad “If I Fell.”
She also plays an effective ukulele as part of the band mix, heard to best effect here on the surprising take on Led Zeppelin’s “D’yer Maker.” Her breadth of influences extends to a sultry rendition of Jelly Roll Morton’s “Winin’ Boy Blues,” Little Milton’s soulful “Grits Ain’t Groceries” and a soaring version of the gospel classic “All God’s Children Got Rhythm.”
This album marks one of the last sessions cut at Piety Street with Mark Bingham and you can practically feel the warmth that surrounded the whole event.