I’m not exactly sure why folk troubadour Ethan Daniel Davidson goes by the tri-moniker system; he hails (at least in spirit) from the village of Wiseman, Alaska, the last outpost between Fairbanks and the Prudhoe Bay oil fields. With a population of 18 hunter-gatherers hunkered down seven road hours from the nearest store, it hardly seems possible that a middle-name usage is necessary from a standpoint of identification.
So is it a simple matter of pretension, as one would suspect with the likes of David Foster Wallace or Sarah Jessica Parker? (Although three names is clearly and significantly less pretentious than one name or the now-trendy abbreviation-hyphenation combo. At least he doesn’t go by “Ethan” or, worse yet, “E-Dav.”) A look at EDD’s collateral material would seem to support the pretension theory. The liner notes to his album Alaska 11 North (named for the Alaska Pipeline maintenance road on which Wiseman is located) are chock-full of nods to his own achievements as well as niblets of his leftist philosophy. A visit to his website (ethandanieldavidson.com) produces much of the same: an autobiographical litany of exploits concerning his nomadic existence, all celebrating the decidedly non-conformist slant of his life.
So it’s a damn good thing that EDD’s life and music are sturdy enough to bear the weight of his opinion of their worth. For every bit of info we really don’t need to know (he was a radio DJ in Michigan; he drove a tour bus; he took a vow of celibacy that lasted six and a half years), there are a number of truly strange and wonderful components of his life (he sailed a self-built junker boat three hundred miles down the Yukon River; the winter that inspired the album, spent in an old cabin in Wiseman, that was consumed by chopping wood and writing songs).
Alaska 11 North is a ragged-around-the-edges piece of work. Several songs sound as if EDD wrote and played them with Woody Guthrie on his shoulders, and they—not unexpectedly—fall flat. But there are some real gems here as well. “Saskatoon” is subtle Bruce Cockburn/Lou Reed spoken-word-type song with killer lyrics (“Been walking through the middle of nowhere/Feelin’ low and hollow as a vampire/The sunrise this morning was brought to me by General Electric/And I guess they’ll re-run it at four”), “Sweet Sister” is a ripping double-lead guitar groove, and “Unlucky in Love” teases the Guthrie/Dylan tradition of lionizing famous sexpots (here it’s Madonna, for whom EDD wants to be a pool boy) to wonderful effect.
After a surprising cover medley—an understated version of Loudon Wainwright’s “The Man Who Couldn’t Cry” devolves into a stomping repeat of the chorus from the Velvet Underground’s “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’”—the album ends on EDD’s strongest and least derivative tune, “Southern Ocean,” a sweet but barbed farewell to a past lover.
What to expect out of this guy live is anybody’s guess. But I’ve got a strong hunch it’ll be worth it to find out for yourself.
Ethan Daniel Davidson plays Jay’s on Thursday, May 3 at 10 p.m., along with Dave Daniels and Lettuce Prey.