The phrase used as the title of Davy Knowles’ What Happens Next should be interrogatory. Produced by Eric Corne, who’s fulfilled similar duties on albums by venerable British bluesman John Mayall in recent years, The Isle of Man native’s fourth solo album is without any doubt a distinct improvement upon the prior two, The Outsider and Three Miles From Avalon, from 2014 and 2016 respectively. Yet the very economy that allows the twelve cuts here to bristle with energy also precludes an accurate depiction of Knowles’ gifts as an improviser, thereby leaving open the question of whether he can ultimately configure a studio corollary to his imposing stage persona.
Various lineups of touring musicians have aided Davy in the increasingly versatile and intense progression of his live performances in recent years, so it’s heartening to some of those players (re)appear here. The combined presence of bassist Tod Bowers, keyboardist Andrew Toombs, and drummer Jeremy Cunningham (with Corne on bass and background vocals for some tracks) aids in the no-frills rendering of the quasi-soul of “Roll Me” as much as the pop-influenced rock of “Get Lucky.” The concise nature of such arrangements parallels the terse musicianship, both of which capture the better part of the electricity that Davy and his accompanists can conjure up.
“Side Show” is unfortunately somewhat predictable in its repetition of the song’s refrain, a shortfall that might’ve been mitigated with more extensive improvisation. The same is true of “Get Lucky” and “Heartbreak Or Nothing:” these cuts are nothing if not crisp and while they do whet the listener’s appetite for successive numbers, anyone who’s seen Davy live might well wonder why there’s not more jamming. There’s certainly time for it as both of the latter tracks are less than three minutes long and left short as they are, the pair impart even more of a certain rote atmosphere to this LP.
In contrast, “Light of the Moon” sounds charged right out of the gate, as does “Devil And The Deep Blue Sea.” The latter’s arrangement also bears evidence of the rightful homage to the Beatles via organ and slide/rhythm guitar parts that evince an honest absorption of motifs from Abbey Road. Meantime, while the deceptively aged tenor of this frontman belies his relative youth, it is certainly in the contemporary tradition of great white blues/soul singers including Gregg Allman and Van Morrison.
The self-restraint the guitarist applies for solos like the one on “One And The Same” might otherwise be the most notable aspect of his maturity on What Happens Next. In purely technical terms too, his fusion of rhythm and lead components during “Solid Ground” helps transcend the slightly-cliched song title, while “River” reaffirms the veracity of the truism about ‘the less said the better;’ introducing acoustic textures reminiscent of the splendid 1932 EP in a layered arrangement, it foreshadows the delicate finger-picking of “If I Ever Meet My Maker,” which in itself is exactly the kind of dramatic closing missing from Davy Knowles’ previous two records. As on most of the other cuts here, he and his accompanists don’t stray too far from the tune, but that sense of shared self-discipline works to their benefit, at least to the extent it highlights the relative strength(s) of the material, one of the bedrocks in the studio-centric conception and execution of What Happens Next.
However, the earthy fervency of the guitar break on “Hell to Pay” reminds us that, at least in terms of the original songs (three of which are Corne’s who also collaborated twice with the bandleader), a straight blues (or close approximation thereof) is missing from this LP. At least until the appearance of “Wake Me Up When The Nightmare’s Over;” the twisting, turning riff proceeds directly from and builds upon the approach of Back Door Slam, the band Davy Knowles founded and oversaw through 2009.
In hindsight, that group served as a viable launching pad for a Davy Knowles solo career that’s now beginning to evolve in the most significant fashion with this Mascot Label Group debut. Initial hearing that invites repeated listening and frequent playing of What Happens Next should rightfully confirm its durability, particularly if its successor (s) contains a bit more spontaneity. Under those hypothetical circumstances, this precocious musician will clarify his artistry even further than he does on this LP.