The Road Back to Music Journalism #8: Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings at Rockwood Music Hall
Discovering a New Band at a Bar
I was spending a weekend in New York, and the friend with whom I was having dinner on Saturday evening suggested catching a few sets at Rockwood Music Hall. We arrived mid-set for one group and stayed for two more. The second of the three groups that evening was Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings. Between sets, I found myself standing next to Bridget and struck up a conversation, complimenting her on the band and offering a couple thoughts I had during the set. Even in the decade-plus away from music journalism, I still always examined the music I listened to; I wrote reviews in my head whenever I was at a show or spinning a new CD. And even with all those years away, I still felt compelled to share what I thought, particularly with the musicians themselves. I, of course, was able to quickly share my background, and that has been enough both online and in person to get the attention and appreciation of the musicians with whom I share my thoughts. I enjoy this part of being involved in the music business. And that night in June was no different.
Why This Was a Step on the Road Back
It’s one thing to share thoughts and exchange notes online, but it’s quite another to do it in person. This is what I used to love so much about being a music magazine publisher. Of course, in that moment, I merely signed up for Bridget’s mailing list and planned to look more closely into the music when I got home. But that night, combined with all of the previous steps on the road back (and indeed I had started to consider the thought of a return), was the event that cemented my decision to finally launch this blog. The decision didn’t exactly come immediately. In a sense it did, but it took a few more weeks for me to convince myself. For the launch date, I picked out a week in late October, a time when I would have some vacation days, as a good time to get the blog started with a complete set of informational pages and a flurry of posts. As you can see, that’s what I’ve done. So, even though it wasn’t immediate, step #8 was essentially the last step on my road back. (But yes, there will be a step #9 article. One more thing happened that would have sealed the deal, if it had been necessary, and it certainly convinced me not to reverse course on my decision. But I’m getting ahead of myself.)
June 13, 2015
First of all, apologies for the blurry photo. I bumped a setting on my camera during the evening but didn’t realize it until later that night. But you can sort of make out Bridget and her bandmates in the picture, can’t you? OK, then let’s start the review.
Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings songs’ have what I refer to, for lack of a better phrase, as “engines” – those often-song-long rhythmic hooks that seem to be BD+VKs’ signature (sometimes a bass line, sometimes a guitar line, occasionally drum-based, once in a while even vocal) are the band’s strength, what sets them apart from other bands in their genre. Bridget has great vocals, of course, but I think their songs (not just the songs themselves but their unique songwriting style, namely their songs’ “motors” or “engines” – yes, I can’t decide which word is more descriptive) are their real advantage.
Indeed, when I sought out Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings’ music after the show, I started with the most recent EP, January. And I instantly recognized the songs that had drawn me in during the live show, “The Breakdown” – I easily that song’s “motor” from a couple days earlier – and “January.” Also, perhaps “Jonas,” though I didn’t take any notes at the show, so I can’t be sure. But if you want an introduction to the band’s music, there is no better introduction than “The Breakdown.” The song is one long hook, with a pulsing acoustic rhythm you’ll be hearing long after the song is done and vocals that rise and fall perfectly with the melody and as called for in the lyrics.
As a whole, the folk-rock style embodied by Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings – a sort of alt-rock folk with a pinch of Americana – tends to be song-driven rather than vocalist-driven. And while Bridget’s voice is sweet and clear with an odd waver when called for (well-suited to, perhaps, a Chris Isaak style tune), it’s not the band’s calling card. In fact, it’s just a part. It’s the songwriting, notably the hooks (or “motors”), that define BD & the VKs. This is a band whose music – as expressed through its well-crafted songs – is the reason you can identify the artist so easily when you hear the songs. And I give the group immense credit for forging its own path; I’ve heard so much folk-rock and Americana that just sits on the record sounding pretty but doesn’t distinguish itself. That’s why I’m so high on Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings, a strong band with catchy songs… and a unique sound in a genre in which it’s hard to sound unique.
Actually, this is looking ahead to a future article but looking back for the band. About a month ago, Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings released a full-length album, I Wasn’t Planning on the End. My commitment to buy that album when it was released was the last financial musical commitment I made before deciding to return to writing. About a month ago, on the day it was released, I purchased the album. You can look forward to a review of it in the next few weeks. Spoiler alert: I was not disappointed.