Ashley Davis – Night Travels (2014)

Inspired as much by dreamscape ruminations on love as she is by Celtic folkways, emerging talent Ashley Davis’ forthcoming Night Travels creates an endlessly involving, warmly enveloping atmosphere across its 11 tracks. To her enormous credit, the results sound at once timeless and new.

Staying away from the easy cliche is a tall task, of course, within Davis’ chosen genre — one that so often becomes trapped in its own grand history, a museum piece instead of a living thing. Davis achieves this lofty vista with a voice (both as a writer and a singer) that holds nothing back, and gives away nothing to chance. Night Travels — due May 11, 2014 — thrums with a personal, very real honesty.

At the same time, her sense of wonder over the age-old Celtic sound is just as palpable. Davis, after all, is no dilettante: The Belmont University-Nashville product did post-graduate work in Limerick under Micheal O Suilleabhain and then journeyed to Ireland again for sessions to complete this project. Night Travels is likewise bolstered by the presence of fiddler Eileen Ivers (on the ethereally touching, Loreena McKennitt-esque “With You Tonight”), of guitarist John Doyle (on a tender reanimation of “Barbara Allen”) and, perhaps most memorably, of mentor Moya Brenna (on “Beside You Near,” a bittersweet original that could have come from any age).

And yet Davis, even when dueting with a widely recognizable guest like Nickel Creek’s Sara Watkins on the opening “His Bride I’ll Never Be,” remains a centerpoint presence — the beating heart of Night Travels. Listen closely as Davis slips into a flawless Gaelic during “I’ll Follow You (Leanain Thu).” She’s making a larger point about her own personal connections to this vintage artform, and her canny ability to make it completely her own. Ireland may be half a world away, but Davis’ travels always seems to end up right back home.

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Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.