Davina & the Vagabonds' rollicking New Orleans-inflected jazz, gospel, and R&B delighted fans at a packed City Winery in Chicago this week. The retro stylings of this Minneapolis group carries a 1960's vibe, underscoring lyrics packed with an ironic take on songs of the “you done me wrong” and “don’t steal my man” variety.
While the band features cornet and trombone, bass, drums and keyboard, there is added brass in the high powered vocals of lead singer Davina Powers, who along with her band mates, wins fans because she “brings it” to every performance.
Imagine Bette Midler impersonating Amy Winehouse, with a dash of Madeline Peyroux thrown in, and you get a sense of Davina Sowers. And while she has a lot of control of her vocal instrument - going from breathy to belting, with a light rasp that softens the delivery - she’s affecting as a pianist as well.
The enthusiasm and turnout at City Winery - Wednesday's windchill notwithstanding - also delighted Sowers: nearly everyone yowled in the affirmative when she asked if they’d seen the show before. The band had begun this day before dawn to make an appearance at WGN Studios in the morning, and was to be up at dawn the next day for a show in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Sowers writes most of the songs, and her performance is loaded with showmanship as she mugs her way through the breaks and as songs unfold – but at a point in most songs she gets captured by the music, and really delivers.
The group is much more than Davina, though, as each member – trombonist Steve Rognes, trumpet Zack Lozier, and drummer Connor McRae Hammergren - sings and writes original songs. Rognes and Lozier take the lead as they swing into Dixieland and Bourbon Street jazz. (The bass at City Winery is not a permanent member of the group.) Drummer Connor Hammergren, with big muttonchops, seems to have a lot of street-style percussive techniques up his sleeve.
Chicago’s City Winery is the perfect setting both in terms of intimacy and sound – and because the elegant noshes and paired with house wines harkens back to the glory days of 1950s and 1960s night clubs. As do Davina & the Vagabonds.