Thornetta Davis honed her chops on Detroit's blues circuit in the mid-80s, but she made her recorded debut on the legendary Seattle indie label Sub Pop. After singing on the first two discs by Detroit funk rockers Big Chief, in 1991 and '92, she signed on under her own name, and in '96 released her first solo album, Sunday Morning Music, written and performed with several members of Big Chief. The ten originals were refreshingly economical--ranging from gospel-inflected ballads to tough blues rock to gritty social commentary--that kept the focus on her strong and versatile voice. But the new independently produced Covered Live at the Music Menu, a set of the singer's favorite R & B covers, showcases her vocal talents just as well, if not better. She can dart up into the daunting coloratura range and descend into a deep, throaty alto murmur with no loss of power, and her impeccable diction and rock-solid swing bring a sophisticated theatricality to breezy shuffles like "I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water" and "Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On." On Ida Cox's classic bad-girl paean "Wild Women Don't Get the Blues," her tone hardens into a jubilant badass rasp, and she makes even her bravest moves--multioctave jumps, modulating from a sexy purr to a spitfire wail, rapidly skittering melismatas--with disarming ease. But the disc's most spellbinding moment--which could transform this gig into something approximating a religious experience--is her churchy reading of Percy Mayfield's prayer for world peace, "Please Send Me Someone to Love." The tender intensity with which she caresses Mayfield's lyrics ("Unless man puts an end to this damnable sin / Hate will put the world in flame") should send shivers down every spine in the house. Friday and Saturday, October 5 and 6, 9:30 PM, Rosa's Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage; 773-342-0452.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Scott F. Stewart.