Mikaela Davis, “And Southern Star”
By Ben Salmon · August 08, 2023 Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

At one point in her life, Mikaela Davis studied classical harp at a conservatory of music and dreamed of joining a symphony. But when songs started pouring out of her—and she started touring behind those songs—she shifted to a different dream, one set in recording studios and on the roads between rock clubs. After self-releasing her self-titled debut in 2012, Davis put out a handful of EPs and singles before landing on the venerable roots-music label Rounder Records for her 2018 album Delivery, a remarkably cohesive collision of folk traditions, fuzzy basslines, buzzy synthesizers, swirling psych, and throwback rock ‘n’ soul. With big-time producer John Congleton overseeing the sessions, Delivery made a splash, propelling Davis to performances with acts like Bon Iver, Bob Weir, Lake Street Dive, Punch Brothers, and Christian McBride.

Five years later, the upstate New Yorker is back with her third full-length And Southern Star, this time for the also-venerable indie rock label Kill Rock Stars. It is, as the saying goes, a major leap forward for Davis, who credits her longtime friends and bandmates—drummer Alex Coté, guitarist Cian McCarthy, bassist Shane McCarthy, steel guitarist Kurt Johnson—for providing her with the safe space and self-assurance to pursue her ideas and sound. If that’s the case, then Davis is a country gal at heart. And Southern Star is twangier than Delivery, thanks largely to the prominence of Johnson’s steel guitar, which adds gentle swoops of string-bending beauty to the album’s star-lit opener, “Cinderella,” and to the optimistic “Home in the Country,” with its steady boom-chick rhythm and radiant, harmony-rich chorus. It’s also the reason the bouncy “Promise” sounds like Cruel Country-era Wilco playing a Summerteeth-era Wilco song—which is to say it’s the catchiest song on the album, in a country-pop kind of way.

Elsewhere, Davis showcases her considerable harp skills and knowing resilience on “The Pearl,” and she delivers two wounded but hopeful ballads (“One Of These Days,” “Saturday Morning”) with an impressive combo of grace and grit. In the album’s final third, the band stretches out a bit, steering the second half of “Far From You” into space, cranking up the choogle for “Don’t Stop Now” and closing the album with “Leave It Alone,” a nearly eight-minute jam that hints at what Davis and her friends are capable of when they want to get weird. As for the rest of And Southern Star? It’s enchanting. It’s exciting. And it’s strong evidence that Davis made the right call when she ditched the symphony for rock ‘n’ roll.

Read more in Country →

Top Stories

Latest see all stories

On Bandcamp Radio see all

Listen to the latest episode of Bandcamp Radio. Listen now →