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Davina And The Vagabonds: Piano Licks, Vocal Tricks

Rooted in early-20th-century blues and jazz, Davina and the Vagabonds' "lipstickandchrome" is freshened up with modern sass.
Ezra Moore
Rooted in early-20th-century blues and jazz, Davina and the Vagabonds' "lipstickandchrome" is freshened up with modern sass.

Davina Sowers' classically trained right fingers shimmy down the piano keys and meet up with an insistent boogie-woogie bass. Then she reveals her other musical talent: a sassy, salty, sweet voice that's childlike at the top, husky at the bottom.

The song is "lipstickandchrome," named for the tube of ruby-red that Sowers never leaves home without and the mirror on her roadster where she checks her makeup. Like many of the tracks she wrote for her band's new album, Black Cloud, the tune is rooted in early-20th-century blues and jazz, but freshened up with the 21st-century cheek of Sowers' teasing vocals and clever lyrics. A party anthem, it'd sound perfectly at home booming out of a 1920 Model T — if it had a radio — or a 2011 Prius, preferably with a sunroof.

A Florida native who's won a substantial following in her adopted home of Minneapolis, Sowers leads Davina and the Vagabonds just as confidently as she commands her piano. Accompanying her in "lipstickandchrome" are a honking trombone and trumpet, a walking bass and a steady drum; she enlists her male musicians as backup singers, as well, when she floats up into a nasal and flirty "no, no, no, no, no" as the men shout, "Nothing could go wrong." When she repeats the line, it almost sounds like, "Nothing couldn't go wrong."

That may be a Freudian slip. In the liturgy of love songs, lots of things can go wrong when a singer tells her swain that she's "the girl of your dreams" and he'd "better throw out that watch, 'cause things are gonna move real fast." But for the time it takes to sing one swinging song, Sowers makes the case that lipstick and chrome can conquer all.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Marc Silver
Marc Silver, who edits NPR's global health blog, has been a reporter and editor for the Baltimore Jewish Times, U.S. News & World Report and National Geographic. He is the author of Breast Cancer Husband: How to Help Your Wife (and Yourself) During Diagnosis, Treatment and Beyond and co-author, with his daughter, Maya Silver, of My Parent Has Cancer and It Really Sucks: Real-Life Advice From Real-Life Teens. The NPR story he co-wrote with Rebecca Davis and Viola Kosome -- 'No Sex For Fish' — won a Sigma Delta Chi award for online reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists.