Davina and the Vagabonds take me back to my little college apartment under the glow of a red lamp, a midnight chinook stirring up autumn leaves outside the window. Maybe that's because I listened to Etta James and Billie Holiday back then, and Davina Sowers has that same kind of crackly, blues-and-jazz voice that pulls each song along like an intimate conversation. The Minneapolis band plays music that feels like classic 1920s jazz, though Sowers does mostly originals. In "River," from the group's most recent album, 2011's Black Cloud, she sings, "I'm so-oh sorry. Sorry, my man. I didn't mean to do you wrong. I will take myself to the river to pray. And if that don't work, I will sail along." It's like listening to Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home To Me" after a breakup. It will bring you to your knees.
The Vagabonds, with their yearning trumpets and dramatic drums, keep the songs in constant motion like a picaresque. I haven't seen them live, but YouTube clips show a band as noteworthy for its stage presence as its musicianship. Sowers is addictive to watch as she dominates the piano and she playfully bends her words for effect. "I ain't–! I ain't–! I ain't–!" she stutters, somehow, gracefully. She makes it easy to wait for whatever words come next.
Davina and the Vagabonds play the Missoula Winery Thu., Feb. 20, at 8 PM. $13/$10 advance at Rockin Rudy's and ticketfly.com.