CD Review of Bobby Barbados by Camren Von Davis
Recommended if you like
Jack Johnson, Cake,
The Grateful Dead
Camren Von Davis:
Bobby Barbados

Reviewed by Jason Thompson


Everybody is a cactus, so why am I a lizard?” This is Camren Von Davis’ main question to the listener during “Cactus Lizard,” Bobby Barbados’opening track. The music, a mix of the Mexican horns that Cake often like to use, dusty acoustic guitar, and an overall sense of listlessness that brings to mind a hot sunny day under the desert sun, comes out of left field. And then there’s that damn question over and over: “Why am I a lizard?” Yes, Camren Von Davis is a fringe folkie who sees limitless possibilities in his music and goes after them full force – with mixed results.

Obviously. After all, what to make of the Grateful Dead wannabe “Clouds of Poison,” which sounds just as boring as vintage Dead? Really early vintage Dead, mind you, when the band was still trying to find itself in the studio. The noodling on this track will make you wonder what’s next out of sheer boredom, if nothing else. “Plastic America” slinks easily on its Lou Reed-inspired guitar figure while Davis spouts out some lyrics that feel like they should be important – a commentary on the nation’s commercialization – but instead they just sound preachy.

“Mr. 2” goes back into the flaky jazz-folk mode that would make Jerry Garcia proud. If it weren’t for the errant saxophone goofing off in the background, you’d swear it was time to break out the patchouli and tie-dyed shirts that haven’t been washed in a couple weeks. Damn hippies. “Pickle Jar” then arrives, seemingly on the nod, about to fall over on itself in a heap of dead space, droning notes, and half-assed playing. It might impress Alex Chilton on his least inspired days, but anyone else will hear right through it.

Unfortunately, “The Way You Do Your Hair (Wallpaper Music)” has a subtitle that fits it perfectly. More goofing off with no payout. Even Jandek at his most annoying is more captivating. Then there’s the cover of “God Bless the Child” that doesn’t quite make it. Even though it tries its damndest, the sluggish guitar sounds like it’s more steeped in hipster faux jazz bullshit than honest appreciation for the song itself. And Davis’ voice just isn’t up to snuff to really sell the thing legitimately.

“Microchip” sports an annoying beat, lame eco-aware lyrics, and some flimsy chords tossed out from the keyboard. It’s hard to take any of this stuff seriously when Davis doesn’t seem 100% into it himself. It all sounds like these songs were either fragmentary ideas or written during sessions of sleepwalking, with no editing applied whatsoever. Of course, he wants to make a serious point in “Politics” and comment once again on the state of the human being, but instead comes off sounding like one of those speakers that show up during middle school functions to bring a positive message to the kiddies while they spend the whole time talking to each other about what TV shows they’re going to watch after this guy shuts up and school is finally over for the day.

While some fellow fringe folkies, like Devendra Banhart, have made an excellent and enjoyable career for themselves with their way-out tunes, Camren Von Davis is best suited to just staying at home, making his little songs, and letting his friends listen to them if they so choose. Anyone else hearing this on a much larger scale and enjoying it is a dream that’s just not going to happen. Davis’ music isn’t that interesting, when it comes down to it, and his lyrical pursuits are mostly laughable. Maybe next time, but it’s doubtful.

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