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Clay Davidson

Unconditional – 2000 (Virgin Nashville)

Reviewed by Clarissa Sansone

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CDs by Clay Davidson

This debut release by 29-year-old Virginia native Clay Davidson is Nashville-smooth: the production a little too wrought, the pickers a little too on cue. Some songs - the opener, "Makin' Hay," and the schmaltzy title track, for example - have all the ambition and creativity of beer commercial ditties. Slower numbers, like "What Was I Thinking of," are typically the most enjoyable, for their slighty sparser production and their empahsis on Davidson+s vocals.

Davidson+s voice - deep and capable, with a handful of gravel thrown in - is a real strength as is the tasteful musicianship on several tracks. "Sometimes," a ballad of love reaffirmed, features steel guitar work by Steve Hinson that enhances the meaning and texture of the song. The gospel-inspired "Doghouse Rights" includes solid harmonica-playing and snatches of blue piano, which provide an "Amen" to the testifying lyrics.

Davidson wrote or co-wrote 7 of the 11 songs, including the final number "We're All Here": a barroom homage that is lyrically the most interesting and entertaining of all. "We're all here cause we ain+t all there," the chorus goes, and also includes the line "We ain+t happy but we ain+t sad": it+s an ambivalence that nicely sums up listening to the album: not exceptional, but not too bad.