Review: Erika Davies; April 24, 2010; Queen Bee, San Diego

Erika Davies has a voice like a butterfly. It flutters about, agile and light as the air, clearing entire octaves with no visible effort.

Her performances are distinctly old school, from her vintage microphone to her penchant for evening gowns. Even her voice is retro — evoking Ella Fitzgerald and Édith Piaf but never paling in comparison — and it wouldn’t be surprising if her vocal chords were made out of vinyl. She’s one of the brightest diamonds in the San Diego ruff, and at Saturday’s monthly Sight and Sound event at Queen Bee, she was allowed to shine.

Davies opened with the sauntering “Robot Girl,” a charming, pre-feminist declaration of desire. The bossa nova “Deep Sea Dancer” showcased her bird-call crooning, and made good use of her new backing band. Davies has taken to playing with fiancé Gary Hankins on acoustic guitar and Chris Carroll on drums — both of local band Shapes of Future Frames — and the two complemented the song with some start-and-stop percussion and Latin flair.

The a cappella “Empty Shell of a Man” was a delight, allowing Davies to show off her formidable range. Her voice implied mysterious chord changes as it oscillated from near-whispers to full-on belting and back again. The heartbreaking “Galaxy Lakes” built to a soaring chorus, with Davies’ vocal acrobatics bolstered by Carroll’s delicate percussion and Hankins’ solemn strumming.

The trio moved through their set with a quiet, relaxed professionalism, nailing the energetic sass of “Kicks Ya,” the staccato 12-bar of “Jing Me” and the upbeats of “Don’t Stay Away” with grace and ease. Davies finished the set with a solo performance of a new song called “We Are,” backed by the light, frantic strums of her ukulele.

Davies usually plays with the immensely talented Jon Garner on guitar, but the decision to experiment with a different configuration has paid off. Hankins and Carroll’s tasteful accompaniment lent the set a variety that spiced up the proceedings without diverting attention away from the singer. Instead, the spotlight remained fixed exactly where it should be — on Erika Davies and her golden voice.

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