When you look at the CDs in the mailbag in any given week, you can easily place most Irish artists in two camps - those who chase the fumes from the boozy Pogues caboose, and those who try to recreate the otherworldly atmospherics of Clannad and Enya. Lordy, is the landscape cluttered with these New Agey waifs who scatter through the Irish countryside with their magic dust and voices that float above the stratosphere! Celtic Woman, Sirocco and Loreena McKennitt are just a few of these gals occupying that space. You might be forgiven for thinking that Ashley Davis is in that ilk. She recorded her excellent new album, "Down by the Sea," in the home of Clannad lead singer Moya Brennan, who even broke away from making the tea long enough to sing on the tracks. While the Clannad influence is obvious, Davis' voice is a completely grounded instrument that has a sensual, earthy tone in its deeper register. It's not a perfect voice, but it's a damn good one, and that's the point. Davis doesn't walk in the clouds like the other fairies. She resides in the streets of Manhattan, just like the rest of us. "It is a traditional sound with contemporary trimmings that invites many different genres of listeners to jump in," she says when asked to describe Down by the Sea. "It's not so trad that it keeps people out, and it's not so contemporary that it turns the trads off. "Production-wise I wanted to keep it very clean and open. I was referencing some early Solas and Loreena McKennitt. I wanted to keep things positive without being cheesy." I couldn't say it better myself. Her straightforward read of "Raglan Road" has the warmth of a lullaby, while original compositions like "Rathlin Rant" crackle with a vibrant, fresh vibe. Her "Wedding Song," a delicately beautiful track written for her brother's nuptials, is the kind of tune that should be played at every Irish wedding. "May you always have work for your hands to do/may be pockets be heavy and your heart be right/may the moon follow you home on starless nights," Davis sings. Every marriage should be blessed with this sentiment, and every family should have a sister this talented! I could convince you to buy the album because The Chieftains' Paddy Maloney, Cherish the Ladies' Joanie Madden and Brennan are all over it, and while their performances on this album are joys to behold, the plain truth is that this music deserves your attention because it's a fiercely original voice that touches your heart without leaving you in the fairy dust. I spoke with Davis about "Down by the Sea," recording with her idol, and her upcoming showcase at Joe's Pub. Here's how it went. We've talked about the influence of Clannad on your art, and you can definitely hear that on the album. It must have been a thrill to work with her and record in her home studio. Moya Brennan and Clannad are a huge influence on me. It was absolutely surreal and one of the best experiences I have ever had. She is such a legend and such an innovator. The Brennan family came up with that lush, multi-layered sound and it was amazing to see how she went in and did it. The way she warms up a song with those layers of vocals was something to see. Some people might warm up a musical arrangement with instrument, and she does it with voices. I think she probably has influenced everyone in the Celtic world. I did a photo shoot with no makeup, a very natural shoot, for the album. Nothing surprised me because I just consider her an all encompassing women. I saw her with her parents. They are just so wonderful. To see her as a mother, she is just exceptional. She really cares about putting the energy into her children's eye. As a woman, that was an inspiration. For her to take me under her wing and guide me was an amazing blessing. She is in very good company onstage. How did you decide to record in Ireland? A lot of the musicians I wanted to work with are based there. It would have been way too expensive to bring them over here, put them up and feed them while they were here. It all just fell into place and was very serendipitous. Moya's harpist produced my album and he said, 'You should really think about doing the album over there.' What would I say, no (laughs)? To have your idol going up and down the stairs and have a cup of tea up there was a big draw. People heard you were recording there and people would just drop by. Were you conscious not to sound too much like Clannad or Moya? I think the way I write and the way I influenced the production makes things different. I have a definite sound to my voice and style of writing that I really doubt people would mistake us. I couldn't copy her if I tried! The place people will hear it, of course, is multi-layered. I really love your voice; it is earthy, real, and I think it really makes the album work well. You actually remind me more of Stevie Nicks than Moya, to be honest. Thanks! It is a voice that is grounded in earth, and I like it. I think that it is a complement that you can hear it is me right away. The camp is full of these ghostly mouth singers. I am blessed with genetics and Stevie Nicks was a huge influence on me as well. I was singing her stuff since I came out of the womb. What comes first: words or music? I write from life experience, always taking notes about things in conversations and things that happen to me. I just collect all of these things and they marinate in me and when I write, it all just flows out of my hand. Writing songs are never a chore. I always know when it happens. I get overwhelmed and I just have to sit down and write it. I write words first and then figure out a melody. I read three books at a time and keep a pen with me at all times. Your "Wedding Song" is beautiful. How does the happy couple respond to the gift? What's interesting is that they hear the song before the ceremony and then when they hear it during the moment then it becomes a new gift for them. It is a kick for me because the song becomes a family heirloom that hopefully passes through generations. I get so much joy singing that. I really hope people in the audience get those things out of their life. People love Irish themed weddings. I wrote the piece because there was not really anything that wasn't about famine, drinking and rebellion. Apart from Joe's Pub, what else are you doing to get the word out on your album? I am getting it out to as many Celtic satellite and terrestrial radio stations as possible. I am going to do a CD launch in Donegal sometime in July or August, and I will be playing the festival circuit pretty hard. The last album was a more laid back affair. I hope this album will be played well. I have already been contacted by people who want to shop it for movies and television. Ashley Davis will play Joe's Pub on Thursday, February 19 at 7:30 p.m. Joe's Pub is located at 425 Lafayette Street between East 4th and Astor Place in the East Village. Call 212-254-1263. For more information, log on to daisyrings.com.
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