Snakebites’ & ‘Hysteria
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Reviewed by: Ian Mann
"Hysteria" is an improvement on "Snakebites" but still worryingly bland. I wanted to like these albums but they're just too smooth and glossy.
My first encounter with Chris “Snake” Davis came way back in 1983 (as memory serves) when I saw him play in a band led by ex Isotope guitarist Gary Boyle. Davis must have been very young at the time, nineteen or so, and I remember him as already being a very competent R & B rooted saxophonist - and even at that stage something of a showman. He subsequently appeared on Boyle’s 1986 album “Friday Night Again” before dropping below the jazz radar and into session work. It wasn’t until his relatively high profile work with M People that I next heard the young musician I’d seen all those years ago.
Davis has played sessions for some of the biggest names in pop music – M People, Lisa Stansfield, The Eurhythmics, Paul McCartney, Cliff Richard Kylie Minogue and countless others. He obviously knows what he’s doing - you don’t get to play with names like that if you don’t. Besides recording and touring with artists of this stature he also has a touring band of his own playing smaller venues, sometimes opening for the star name he is to play with later.
That said I was expecting a bit more from these albums. On both records Davis appears with a keyboard player/programmer/producer as his right hand man and the cast is augmented by a whole regimen of session musicians.
“Snakebites” released in 2001 is a sadly toothless affair. Davis’ chops and ability are never in doubt and here he breezes through a set of light pop/soul/jazz/disco instrumentals - but hardly sounds as if he’s extending himself. His chief collaborator is Will Mowat but I find Mowat’s contributions frankly uninspiring.
Superficially this is a pleasant enough album but it’s too close to elevator/shopping mall/coffee bar music to my tastes. I was hoping Davis might go back to his jazz roots and attempt a little more improvisation - or that his funk and soul leanings would get an earthier treatment. Davis’ former employer, M People singer Heather Small does her best to enliven proceedings. She appears on one track “Bring It On Home” and her big, gutsy, gospel inspired voice pushed along by Nicky Brown’s Hammond organ lifts it above the general level of torpor and makes it the best cut on the record.
Towards the close of the record Davis unveils his flute and whistle playing which is a welcome variation from most of what we’ve heard so far. “In A Whisper” has a folk feel to it - and yes; I do agree with Davis’ sleeve note - it would sound good in a movie score.
On 2003’s “Hysteria” Mowat is replaced by Paul Birchall. Birchall’s production is more hard edged and imaginative and helps give Snake a bit more venom.
Davis’ saxophone has a tougher tone and he sounds more involved. “Now’s The Time”,” Mary’s Song” and “Summer Song” sound more urgent than most of “Snakebites”.
Birchall is a better soloist than Mowat and makes significant contributions on both Hammond and Fender Rhodes.
A live cut “The Tickle” recorded in Wigan, the home of Northern Soul shows where Davis is coming from. So, unfortunately, do covers of old 70’s chestnuts like “The Hustle”. They didn’t sound good then and they certainly don’t now. “The Tickle” however hints that as a live performer Davis has plenty of energy to offer and that his live shows are probably far more worthwhile than these disappointing albums.
“Hysteria” is an improvement on “Snakebites” but still worryingly bland. I wanted to like these albums but they’re just too smooth and glossy. Perhaps a live album showing a few rough edges should be the Snake’s next project. Lets see those fangs!
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