Joe Davis – Hope Chest

Joe Davis
Hope Chest

The way the story is told, and it is a true story, Joe Davis is from Pinehurst, Idaho. While the state may be known for its spuds, the town was known for its lead. Lead from the Bunker Hill Mine flowed right into the river and into the drinking water, and hundreds of people died from lead poisoning. In the years that followed, once the cause was determined, the government sought out the so-called Pinehurst Kids. As one of them, they poked and prodded Joe to determine if he had lead flowing lethally through his body.
As frontman of the Oregon band The Pinehurst Kids, Joe Davis is used to playing more intense and charged rock. On this, his solo debut, he calms down a bit and begins to deal lyrically with some of the history he’s familiar with since birth, his legacy you might say. Although not a depressing or demoralizing album, Hope Chest touches on Joe’s childhood tests, watching loved ones die before his eyes, and his own uncertainty with the future. It’s important to note these lyrics, because Joe will do his damndest to make the music overwhelm them.
Unlike The Pinehurst Kids, you don’t get much driving rock here. Instead you get sweet melodies and more restrained rock. Still, it’s not easy to distance Hope Chest from a Pinehurst Kids album. That’s because Joe’s vocals, a very high-pitched and kind of sweet voice, is familiar to anyone who’s heard the Kids’ songs, and often these solo works feel like Pinehurst Kids’ ballads. It takes much closer listens to pick out the more emotional lyrics and the quieter, more introspective melodies. Thus while The Pinehurst Kids are pure, fun listening, Hope Chest requires more of a conscious listen, a more emphatic and determined listen. It succeeds just as well with less effort, but not to its desired effect.
It’s evident from the start, as acoustic guitars and a moody tone kick off the sweetly pretty “Dancer,” that Joe is calming things down. Davis plays most of the instruments on this album, and as on most solo albums, he keeps the focus on the acoustic guitars that make the sad “Luigi Bosco” a quiet yet nicely flowing affair. “Well ain’t it a shame / he can’t remember my name / half the time he don’t know / what street to call home,” Joe sings of a loved one losing his memory. His vocals and more up-beat drums keep these songs from receding into folk territory.
Davis keeps his songs on the softer and more melodic and intricately lovely side. Perhaps the brightest spot, “Angels in the Alley,” is a very pretty affair, with the most crisp guitars and what sounds like soft strings in the background. “Small” is more up-tempo but no less deep, as Joe sings about time in the hospital: “I’ve got needles in my arms / pinball in room / and they still can’t tell me why / I am so small.”
Joe turns up the rock with electric guitars and a faster tempo on the instrumental “Blister,” but things quickly go back to quiet and softer rock. On the slightly Johnny Cash-feeling “Sexy,” Joe gets even darker: “If I close my eyes real tight / I can see the world around me / and I feel good in spite / of how you tried to drown me. When you hurt me / I feel sexy.” “Ready Freddy” (reference to Queen, I wonder?) feels like a slowed down Pinehurst Kids’ song, and the closer, “Running,” again brings on the electric guitar and more up-tempo beats. Again, Joe’s lyrics shine: “blowing smoke into your face / dance where ghosts / fear to tread alone / what have you done / I only wanted to be closer to you / but you won’t let me in now.”
Something in the production of this release makes it very quiet and puts most of the emphasis on Joe’s vocals. And while those vocals are good and unique, I’m more interested in the message here than the music itself. Obviously, he needed an outlet to sing these songs that the Pinehurst Kids couldn’t provide. Still, the music isn’t vastly different from the Kids’, and this album is most enjoyable in a kind of sad way while reading the lyrics and wondering at what this young man must have gone through in his life.