Still Sitting Backstage is Bob Davoli’s newest record, following his powerful debut, Wistfully Yours, as well as an album of John Prine songs, Hello Out There, recorded as a tribute to one of Davoli’s most important influences.
So, after Wistfully Yours and Hello Out There comes Still Sitting Backstage, his fifth record. That’s not an error. There are three different versions of Wistfully Yours out there: the sprawling 37-song deluxe version (all but one song an original), a 15-song condensed single-disc version, the result of lively arguments about which tunes would make the cut, and a solo edition which presented 11 songs performed by Davoli alone, singing and playing guitar without accompaniment.
For Hello Out There Davoli split the difference between the complex and jazzy arrangements of Wistfully Yours and the solo approach, going with a smaller band that nonetheless, because of the sensitivity and fluency of the musicians, crafted lush sonic landscapes in which Prine’s lyrics could nestle.
You could say that Prine provided the blood, Davoli’s fingerstyle guitar playing and singing became the heart and the circulatory system was created by Kathleen Parks on fiddle and harmony vocals, Kevin Barry on lead electric guitar, dobro and lap steel and Jesse Williams on string bass.
This worked so well that we were all hoping Bob would do it again, and he has, getting the same band together, this time to work their magic with his own material, all the songs here making their debut recordings and almost all of them newly written as well. Once again, the musicians are sublime, unerring and astonishingly adroit and heartfelt.
While there are a few nods to terrain already covered—a “beautiful mess” here, a Leonard Cohen reference there—and a similar autumnal, rueful, valedictory and, of course, wistful feeling to many of the songs, Davoli’s new songs sharpen the imagery and narrative structure throughout.
Whether we’re hearing from a “Fallen King of the Cool” in faded blue jeans or, as in the title song, an enigmatic older man wrestling with longing and anger, there’s an emotional thread that combines nostalgia with regret as well as, in songs like “Dust in the Wind,” a keen awareness of mortality.
There is hope, too, though it’s not as present as you might expect in “New Hope Express” or “Quantum of Hope.” It comes last, as it did in the Pandora myth, taking center stage for the final song, “Dawn Interrupted.” The imagery and feelings here are almost saturated with contentment.
And with this conclusion, the contrast between the joyful beauty of the music and the more sorrowful beauty of the lyrics is resolved, bringing spiritual and emotional tensions into a gorgeous harmony.
Is Bob Davoli really still sitting backstage? The spotlight seems to have found him here.
Hello Out There
Release date: April 8, 2022
When I first heard John Prine’s eponymous first record, in 1971, like many others, I was blown away by songs like “Sam Stone” and “Hello in There.” He narrated his poignant vignettes with a plain-spoken and plaintive voice, and his imagery was so compelling that you could clearly see his characters in your mind’s eye. Prine had an innate knack for finding just the right words to sculpt his stories and illuminate the essence of the emotions he seeks to convey. He wrote from his gut and aimed for your heart because that’s where most people live! His writing epitomizes the power and beauty of simplicity.
From Eric Harabadian at Music Connection Magazine (the May 2022 issue), Eric writes:
Davoli’s latest sheds light on the catalog of songwriting legend John Prine. The financial wizard-turned troubadour stays true to the heart and spirit of Prine’s humanity and intent. From the war veteran lament “Sam
Stone” to the aging tome “Hello in There,” Davoli’s earthy and temporal vocals set the stage and suit the songs perfectly. Kathleen Park’s sweet harmonies and fiddle accompaniment raise the emotional bar. The subtle and spacious arrangements allow the words to fluidly evolve and bloom in your mind.
Craig Shelburne, music journalist and author who also penned the liner notes to John Prine's final album I Remember Everything, wrote the following about Hello Out There:
I consider myself fortunate that, over the last few years, I’ve been able to have conversations with Bob Davoli as well as John Prine about their songs. I was introduced to Davoli as he was preparing to release his debut album, Wistfully Yours, in 2021. We talked by phone for about an hour, working together to shape his story – and a rare one at that. A 72-year-old releasing a debut album doesn’t happen every day.
In a similar assignment, I met John Prine at the offices of his record label, Oh Boy Records, in 2018. In ramping up for a release, artists will often distill the story of a new album and their career into a bio, which often runs about a thousand words. How do you tell John Prine’s life story in a thousand words? It may be easier than you think with such a natural storyteller. The trick is capturing the personality.
Even those who never met John Prine probably have a firm grasp on that personality. Cheerful. Witty. Generous. When he walked into our interview with a bucket of KFC and that signature grin, I knew I would never forget that interview. We talked about the songs on The Tree of Forgiveness, not knowing it would be the final album released in his lifetime. And I remember that we talked about Paradise.
In his 2017 songbook, Beyond Words, Prine included a two-page photo spread of the machinery that obliterated the town of Paradise, Kentucky, where he had family roots. It seemed to me then that he still gave a lot of thought to his early life experiences, and although the song “Paradise” has been around for more than 50 years, its message holds firm. Its nostalgic narrative is a terrific way to open this album.
By choosing acoustic arrangements for these Prine classics, Davoli is putting the story front and center. And sometimes a fiddle solo brings out the sadness in a song just as much as the lyrics do. In his weathered voice, the heaviness especially comes through in “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness.” You can feel it when he wonders aloud, “Well, how can you ask about tomorrow? We ain’t got one word to say.”
Prine’s sly sense of humor has been well-noted since his 1971 debut album, but something given less attention is his ability to set the scene. Hearing “Far From Me,” you might feel as if you’re sitting in that café. Documenting the unraveling of a relationship, Prine and Davoli know how to make the most of a brilliantly understated line like, “Well, a question ain’t really a question if you know the answer too.”
It’s hard to imagine a John Prine tribute album without the inclusion of “Sam Stone.” Here, Davoli’s gentle tone pulls in the listener, even though Prine’s fans already know how this tale ends. But even if it’s your first time to hear the song, you can picture Sam, his kids, and the house he bought on the G.I. Bill. Prine also incorporates a quirky saying he learned from his dad: “Little pitchers have big ears.”
Although he was working as a mailman at the time, Prine was dabbling in performing when he sang “Sam Stone” at a Chicago folk club back in 1970. The young newspaper reporter Roger Ebert happened to be in the audience. Stunned at his discovery, Ebert wrote an auspicious and admiring review for the Chicago Sun-Times, giving Prine his first major press clipping. Soon, he traded his mail route for the microphone.
The last original song that Prine would record, “I Remember Everything,” is imagined here as a duet with Kathleen Parks, in the spirit of Prine’s own duets with women he admired. This exquisite and sincere rendition underscores Prine’s consistency as a songwriter. He posthumously received two Grammys for that swan song in 2021, one year after the Recording Academy bestowed a Lifetime Achievement Award.
You can’t stay too sad, though, when you listen to John Prine’s music. On “The Great Compromise,” I find myself laughing and also feeling pity for that character. Then those final verses show a relationship that’s more complicated than you thought. In contrast, there isn’t much of a narrative in “Summer’s End,” but the ache in Davoli’s voice and the imagery in Prine’s writing make it a standout on this album.
In our interview in 2021, I asked Davoli about the first time he listened to Wistfully Yours top to bottom. He told me, "When I sat down and put the headphones on, these weren't just songs to me, they were a lifetime—they were the story of my life." Perhaps the same can be said for this record. Although these two musicians never had a chance to know one another, there is a familiarity here. A comfort.
I was pleased to get reacquainted with “Donald and Lydia” on this album. At my first magazine job out of college, the editor-in-chief discovered that I didn’t know much about John Prine. He ordered the box set called Great Days for me, and I wore that thing out. For some reason, I kept coming back to “Donald and Lydia.” It’s hard to say why, but I think the way he’d interject a short word or a name just captivated me.
From then on, whenever I’d go see Prine perform, his good nature radiated from the stage. It can be an emotional experience to hear someone in his 70s reflecting on his “Souvenirs.” However, I’m also happy to recall the night in Nashville when I witnessed Bonnie Raitt and John Prine singing “Angel From Montgomery” together. Experiences like that are my own souvenirs. True, it took me years to get them.
Davoli concludes this album, Hello Out There, with one of Prine’s masterpieces, “Hello in There.” A poignant and perceptive ballad about aging, but delivered by a young narrator, it’s been recorded by the likes of Joan Baez, Emmylou Harris, Jason Isbell, Bette Midler, and Gillian Welch & David Rawlings. I have to believe that John Prine would be delighted to hear Bob Davoli’s bittersweet version too.
Listen to a single from the album, "Paradise".
Very soon, my John Prine tribute album, “Hello Out There”, will be released. Out now is my rendition of “Paradise", streaming everywhere at the link below. Make sure to click through to Apple Music, Spotify, or one of the other services to listen to the whole song, and I hope you enjoy it! https://bit.ly/DavoliParadise
Listen to a single from the album, "Speed of the Sound of Loneliness".
Out now is my rendition of “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness" is streaming everywhere. Bob writes, "“Speed of the Sound of Loneliness” exemplifies how keen was John Prine’s imagination. Using imagery, he cleverly juxtaposed a phenomenon, the speed of sound, with an emotion, angst. He was going through a relationship breakup, and he happened to see on the cover of Time Magazine the person who broke the speed of sound on the ground with a stretched face (exaggeration, of course, by Time Magazine) resulting from the force of gravity; stretched is how Prine’s heart felt!
Listen by clicking on this link: https://bit.ly/3wkKlCe
Listen to a single from the album, "Sam Stone"
From Melissa Clarke at Americana Highways (you can find more at this link: https://americanahighways.org/2022/02/22/song-premiere-bob-davoli-sam-stone/)
Americana Highways is hosting this premiere of Bob Davoli’s interpretation of John Prine’s song “Sam Stone.” The song will be on Davoli’s new album, Hello Out There, due out on April 8 via Gutbrain Records. Hello Out There was produced by: Bob Davoli; engineered and mixed by Eric Kilburn of Wellspring Sound; and mastered by Toby Mountain of Northeastern Digital. Bob Davoli plays a James Olson guitar, Model SJ.
This version of “Sam Stone” is Kevin Barry on dobro; Bob Davoli on lead vocals and guitar; and Jesse Williams on bass. It’s a lovely tribute, with Davoli’s vulnerable and lovely vocals.
Bob writes: “Sam Stone” is a quintessential John Prine narrative song. It poignantly tells the story of a troubled veteran ravaged by a senseless war. His use of imagery and metaphor are exemplary, enabling the listener to feel and imagine the plight of the veteran. What’s more, John told this complete story in only four minutes with only three verses. The power of simplicity has always been a hallmark of Prine’s writing.
Listen to "Sam Stone" here: https://bit.ly/3pgsA2O
Order/pre-save link: https://smarturl.it/b8lx6a
Wistfully Yours: Solo Edition!
Several of my friends asked me to record some of my tunes from Wistfully Yours as a soloist and, although I was intrigued, I was also quite daunted knowing that there was no place to hide! Nonetheless, I persevered, and the album is just me singing lead and harmony and my guitar. I have always loved listening to simple two-part harmony as evidenced by the fact that growing up, I constantly listened to the Everly Brothers. I was totally enamored with their natural sounding blend and propulsive rhythmic pulse. I am relieved and glad that I was able to complete the project and I hope that you enjoy the music.
The album is available to listen and purchase here on my website, Soundcloud (https://www.soundcloud.com/bobdavoli), Bandcamp (www.bobdavoli.bandcamp.com), Apple Music, and Spotify. All proceeds to be donated to the Chicago Humboldt Park Chapter of Food Not Bombs (http://fnbhp.org). The mission of Food Not Bombs is to recover and share free vegan or vegetarian food with the public, without restriction to protest war, poverty, and the destruction of the environment.
Reviews for Wistfully Yours:
"So, the spirit of John Prine and Bob Dylan are whisked away to another dimension, and it returns as the songs of Bob Davoli. Over the last decade, I've listened to Mr. Davoli's music mature into a fine edged knife of clear, soul touching expression. His commitment to becoming a current musical force has been a delight to watch. Bob is, by any standard, the real thing. Showcased by exceptional recording and production, his first collection soars. Nice to know that someone is committed to getting it right. "
“Songs like the deeply personal ‘Transistor Radio and Me,’ which was selected as a finalist in the 21st Annual Great American Song Contest, showcases Davoli’s talent as a writer… Davoli’s descriptive lyrics and vulnerable storytelling leave an impression with listeners.”
January 15, 2021
"['Don't You Let the Darkness Drag You Down'] flows with the gentle breeze of wisdom. It’s all grace, with no snarls."
November 30, 2020
“There is no doubt that a lot of thought went into each word of this song [‘Transistor Radio and Me’], and all the others on Wistfully Yours.”
January 19, 2021
“Davoli has spent the last seven decades preparing for this album debut…an empathic and fully evolved artist…songs like ‘Transistor Radio and Me’ and ‘What I Remember Most’ run the emotional spectrum, from personal trauma to enduring love. Prepare to open your heart and feel. (8 out of 10)”
February 24, 2021
All proceeds from the sales of Wistfully Yours will be donated to the Chicago Food Not Bombs, Humboldt Park Chapter. The mission of Food Not Bombs is to recover and share free vegan or vegetarian food with the public, without restriction to protest war, poverty, and the destruction of the environment. There are approximately 1,000 Food Not Bombs chapters worldwide. You can find more information on their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/fnbhumboldtpark/, or make a direct donation via Venmo @foodnotbombshumboldtpark.
With the deft touch of a finger-style guitarist and the heart of a ballad folk singer, Bob Davoli has taken and distilled seven decades of experiences to make this beautiful, remarkable, and very personal debut album, Wistfully Yours.
At 72, Davoli acknowledges that mortality is a theme that runs through Wistfully Yours, yet there’s far more range to this collection of songs. One hears longing, sadness, and regret, but also devotion, love, and perhaps most importantly, hope. His voice is weathered, it’s genuine, and the soul of his songwriting clearly comes across, backed up with supportive musicians who value a thoughtful, collaborative approach.
Remembering the first time he listened to Wistfully Yours in its entirety at his home in Truro, Massachusetts, Davoli recalls, “When I sat down and put the headphones on, these weren’t just songs to me, they were a lifetime – they were the story of my life.”
Davoli grew up inspired by Bob Dylan and considers himself a child of the ‘60s – one who went to Woodstock and later marched on Washington. He harbored ambitions of becoming a folk singer himself and picked up an acoustic guitar at 22, because his college roommate had one. By 29, however, he’d put it away as family and career became a priority.
It would be nearly three decades before he wrote his first song, just a few months before his 59th birthday. His wife, political scientist and author Eileen McDonagh, was traveling for a conference, and Davoli was home alone, listening to a Peggy Lee album. Inspired, he composed “Miss Peggy Lee Sings the Blues,” which appears on Wistfully Yours.
From that moment in 2007 until now, Davoli has written more than 50 songs, with plans already in place to keep recording. Prior to embarking on songwriting, he’d also taken guitar lessons from country blues icon Paul Rishell, and those musical influences shape Wistfully Yours just as much as pop, jazz and folk.
“I was a little bit nervous and scared about making a record, and had a little bit of insecurity, but anyway, I did it and I’m really glad I did. I really wanted to get my voice, my songs, out there,” Davoli says. “I had to do it for my sanity, in some ways, for my soul. There was something like a hole in my heart.”
To listen to Wistfully Yours is to discover an unexpected side of Davoli’s life. Professionally he’s had an astoundingly successful career in venture capital, and even appeared on the cover of Business Week in 2000. He’s been a founder and CEO of a software company, CEO of another software company, and landed on Forbes' The Midas List five times in past years. Plus he sits on 14 boards, manages 30 investments, and oversees with his wife, Eileen, the Red Elm Tree Foundation, a charitable organization that grants funds for land conservation, social justice, women’s rights, health care, and the arts. He’s donating all proceeds of this album to the organization Food Not Bombs.
These two passions – venture capital and songwriting – are more similar than one might think. Consider a financial portfolio: Each company represents an individual story, with its own idiosyncrasies and personalities, and its own creative goal. What’s more, all individuals in the company work together as a group. The same can be said for Wistfully Yours. Its songs serve as glimpses of Davoli’s life, and as a unit, they provide a portrait of him as an artist and as a person confronting the human condition as we all must do.
“I hope that some people can heal when they hear this album,” he says. “If they’ve had lost love or bad childhoods, I hope that they can find solace in my music.”
Davoli wrote one of the album’s most eloquent tracks, “Don’t You Let the Darkness Drag You Down” after hearing the phrase in the 2010 film, Beginners. He says, “It’s about longing -- even though you’ve been beaten down, there’s still that hope. It’s one of my best lyrics when I say, ‘I would be so happy just to be so sad with you.’ And the very idea is, ‘No, I don’t want to be free, I still want you to love me.’ It says it all.”
Meanwhile, “Even Though Autumn’s in Your Eyes” came to fruition after he was gazing at wind chimes on a still summer night at home and thinking, “Silent wind chimes always make me cry.” Davoli notes, “It’s one of those songs about getting old, but still not letting it get you down. I write a lot of songs about that.”
Perhaps the most intense song on Wistfully Yours is “Transistor Radio and Me,” which recounts his abusive childhood in precise detail. “My father was battered as a child, so he did that to his kids,” Davoli says. “I used to escape, so I had a treehouse and a snow fort. It is purely autobiographical, and there’s hope in the chorus. In some ways, if I hadn’t had a bad childhood – if you want to look at the positive side – I wouldn’t have been able to write these songs. It’s cathartic, it’s sad, but I got through it, and I hope so can others.”
In addition, the stream-of-consciousness writing that intrigued him as a young Dylan fan finds its way into his own songs, such as “Midnight Sun Tattoo.” He cites a classic Alfred Hitchcock film as the inspiration for “Rear Window Waltz,” where two strangers engage in a virtual love affair, as they’ve been too hurt in life to establish a physical relationship. In contrast, “What I Remember Most” is a tender ode to his wife, whom he’s been with for 44 years. Finally, his fondness for the blues informs “Huge Swig of the Now” as well as a cover of Charley Patton’s “Some These Days I’ll Be Gone” that closes the album.
Throughout Wistfully Yours, Davoli writes and sings from the philosophical perspective of a man who lives very much in the moment, but at the same time often reflects on his past, and the lifetime of decisions that ultimately led him to this place.
“I think it’s interesting that you can have the present feelings, but then you can harken back to another time, and connect the two,” he concludes. “That connection is the important part.”