A couple of years ago, I wrote an article noting that I was pleased by the re-emergence of short-form musical documents in the digital age, essentially re-creating the great “EP” model of earlier, simpler, vinyl-er days. (Well, in days before “vinyl” was an affectation, anyway). As artists have been better able to control the mass-release of their own works online in real time, the need and drive to produce “long-playing” albums (35-45 minutes ideally in their original heyday, 60-80 minutes in the bloated compact disc era) with record label support has waned, and standalone singles or small collections of songs have become more common, and more accepted. More signal, less noise. More meat, less fat. More laundry, less fluff. These are good trends, to these ears.
Long-time readers here will know of my admiration and affection for Jed Davis, one of the great singer-songwriter-players of our generation, easily, no hyperbole involved or required. If you’re new to my site, or if you Ol’ Skool Fools need a refresher, here’s a list of articles that have featured or mentioned him here. He’s a player’s player, a writer’s writer, a singer’s singer, and a damned fine visual artist to boot. The real deal. I first became aware of him when he was a student at SUNY-Albany in the mid-’90s, and have been an awe-struck fan and supporter of his sublime work ever since, as a solo artist, and with a variety of groups, e.g. Collider, The Hanslick Rebellion, Jeebus, Skyscape, Sevendys and more. It’s a rare occurrence here in our household where we don’t spin at least a song or three of his over the course of any given day. And that’s been the case for about a quarter-century and counting at this point.
Jed has been collaborating regularly with the great Juliana Hatfield in recent years, on musical, video and album artwork fronts, and has recently been receiving well-deserved kudos for his contributions to Hatfield’s new album, Blood. Here’s a killer cut from that record, as a representative sampling of how their collaboration sounds:
As that long-player from Juliana is earning rave reviews, I’m also glad to report that Jed has launched a series of releases that play into my affection for short-form collections of songs. He’s not calling them EP’s, though, but rather “Three-Packs.” Here’s the premise, as he explains it:
2020 wasn’t good for much, but being homebound did allow me to sort through 30 years of old recordings, and unarchive tons of shelved and incomplete material.
And then finish that shit!
I am not really interested in doing “albums” anymore… holding music back until a dozen arbitrarily-linked songs are mixed and mastered and the stars and planets align. But at the same time, “singles” are kind of boring and “EPs” demand some degree of cohesion, and I don’t want to be boxed in like that. So here is what I offer you: THREE-PACKS
Remember those randomly-bagged multipacks of comic books they used to sell in toy and drug stores? You wouldn’t be able to see what was inside until you tore open the plastic, and the comics might be brand new or fifteen years old… it was just whatever happened to be laying around when they bundled it up. There was no thematic connection, no rhyme or reason to the collection, and one bag could even contain books from both Marvel AND DC. I was introduced to so many fun stories that way, and that is how I am going to introduce (or reintroduce) you to all of these songs.
Jed released the third Three-Pack in the series this morning (hence the title of this post), and it’s tickling me to pieces, a densely brilliant, fun, smart, and spectacularly composed and arranged little gem. Which is also a perfectly apt descriptor of the two prior Three-Packs. Taken as a group, the nine songs released thus far in the series were originally recorded between 1993 and 2014, and feature performances by (among many others) such stellar session, band and solo artists as Chuck Rainey, Tony Levin, Sheridan Riley, Marta Garrett, Adam Alesi, Anton Fig, Angel Marcloid, Joe Zeitlin, and Josh Plotner. I was familiar with a few of the featured songs before these new releases, but in every case, what I already knew and loved has been improved and enhanced by Jed’s new mixes, or by new parts played by new collaborators, or both.
While all nine songs are killer, a few rise even above the general high levels of excellence that I expect from Jed. First and foremost, the most recent piece, “Across a Thunderstorm” (2014, from Three-Pack #2) is absolutely one of the finest songs that Jed has ever composed and performed, and that’s truly saying something. It’s a slow-burn number featuring spacious piano and synths from Jed and subtle percussion from Anton Fig, and it just soars into the creative ether, deeply emotional lyrically, and deeply emotive from a sonic perspective. If you want a fine example of the ways that songwriters and performers can best deploy their crafts to create transcendent experiences, this one would be a textbook example. Swoon! And swoon again! Just perfect, and lovely, and haunting, and fine.
“Stick Around” (Three-Pack #1) and “City of My Dreams” (Three-Pack #2) ably demonstrate Jed’s proficiency with swinging soul/funk/pop paradigms, both of them instant ear-worms, both of them guaranteed to move you, literally and figuratively. Today’s release (Three-Pack #3) opens with the slamming post-prog metal stylings of “Halfway Through September,” featuring the great Tony Levin on Chapman Stick, an instrument that has obsessed me for decades, especially when TLev plays it. I also tend to obsess about the bass clarinet (see this piece), and that lovely instrument features centrally on “Reorganizing My Phonebook,” a dreamy cut originally laid down around the time when I first got to know Jed and his work. It was a fine piece then, and it more than holds it own in 2021. And will likely do so when I revisit it a decade or two hence. As will the remainder of the eight cuts already released in this series, as Jed’s true brilliance lies, on some plane, in his ability to craft songs so good that they could be played or recorded in any numbers of idioms, in any number of eras, by any number of artists with the taste or style to appreciate and interpret his craft.
Of course, the very best versions of those songs will always be the ones that Jed Davis himself plays and sings, and his new series of short releases has, thus far, been a tremendous reminder of the depth and breadth of his songwriting catalog, and his skills as a performer and studio maven. All three of the Three-Packs already released are available via all of the usual online outlets, but I’ve been nabbing them from the Eschatone Records site at Bandcamp, because I like owning things, not streaming things, both as a personal preference, and as a statement of support for the artists I appreciate. Here’s the link to get your first three Three-Packs, and I encourage you to bookmark it so you can add to your collection as Jed sees fit to share his work with us. I’ll certainly be doing so, with spurs on, with bated breath, and with various other indications of anticipation and excitement and appreciation.