Alongside his name, the iconic writer, poet, and philosopher, Charles Bukowski (1920-1994) had the words “Don’t Try” chiseled on his gravestone. It might seem a strange choice for someone who struggled throughout his life for recognition, and only achieved what little success came his way relatively late in life. But that would of course miss the point. For Bukowski, writing was fed only by a deep unshakable desire, an inner compulsion to put pen to paper. In that sense he hadn’t tried or chosen to be a be an author, rather that writing had chosen him; in other words, it was in his DNA, and not the manifestation of any ulterior motive.
You get that same sense when you listen to “Thrive,” the soulful debut five-track EP released today by Toronto, ON artist Claire Davis. This sounds like someone who was born to do exactly what she’s doing, the consequence of absorbing a lifetime worth of classic soul music to the point where both ‘she’ and ‘it’ have become so entwined to be indistinguishable. While some critics might attach a retro label to this music, the downside is that it risks relegating these songs to simply a regurgitation of the past. This would be an injustice, and why I prefer to see them as building on established traditions with the offering of a modern twist, in much the same way as Amy Whitehouse did in the early noughties, in a sense music both of a time and timeless.
It was the connection and respect for the past that inspired Davis to lay the tracks down in the old-fashioned tape tradition of her musical idols. It also produced a lovely warm, almost tactile sound that superglues the tracks together as Davis herself explains: “I felt that recording to tape was an integral part of unifying the overall sound of the EP. I was trying to have the flavour of some of my favourite soul records, the analogue process is all about capturing that vibe.” “Thrive” explores a spectrum of emotion; from the aching Otis Redding sounding “Can’t Move On,” to the groovy and bouncy “Playground,” to the introspective title track itself. “Each song centers around the relationships we have ourselves and others … ultimately the song Thrive really resonated with me,” Davis adds. “I really believe that no matter who comes and goes in our lives we blossom the most when we love and take care of ourselves first. It’s the only thing we can truly control.”
Although labelled her first solo outing, it’s unsurprising to learn that Davis isn’t exactly a newcomer to the scene. Carving out her reputation by fronting the sensational live seven-piece funk outfit YUKA, she has already shared a stage with stalwarts such as Martha Reeves and Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, as well as other Toronto breakout artists Charlotte Day Wilson, Jessie Reyez, and Daniel Caesar. The origins of Claire’s soul journey can be traced back to her high school days in Victoria, BC, where she sang in a twelve-piece R&B/Motown band. It’s an apprenticeship that has allowed her to both hone her craft whilst serving the illusion that she arrives as a fully developed artist.
Recorded at Safe Spaceship Studios in Toronto, it is worth giving due credit to producer, YUKA bandmate, and co-writer Scott McCannell, who also contributes both bass and guitar, alongside fellow musicians Heather Crawford (guitars), James Taylor (guitars), Chino DeVilla (drums), Ben MacDonald & La-Nai Gabriel (horns/organ), Juan Carlos Medrano (percussion), and rounded out by backing singers Joanna Mohammed, Tegan Michelle and Kayla Charter, who collectively provide a perfectly balanced accompaniment to Claire’s vocal delivery.
Like Charles Bukowski, I don’t envisage Claire Davis has to try in the wider sense. It sounds like she’s already found her purpose, or vice versa – whatever which way round, if it comes out of you, through you, almost like you’re not trying, then chances are you’ve already found it. I only hope that Claire does not have to wait too long before others find it for themselves. “Thrive” is available today, released through Magnephonic Records.