Michigan singer-songwriter Rachael Davis‘ “Summertime” has had a rich life in live performance and on some compilations since she wrote it 12 years ago with husband Dominic John Davis (Jack White, Greensky Bluegrass, Joshua Davis, Beck). But it’s taken until the Sweet Water Warblers, Davis’ group with May Erlewine and Lindsay Lou, to get an official release on one of her own projects.
“That song’s been bouncing around for so long,” Davis says of the track, premiering below. “That was one of the first songs we performed as Sweet Water Warblers; Lindsay knew it and May knew it. So when we were making the list for this album, that just kept popping up in all the combinations of tunes we wanted to do. It’s exciting to finally have it coming out.”
Davis, Erlewine and Lou had separate careers in Michigan when that first Warblers show took place during the summer of 2014, put together by organizers of the Hoxeyville Music Festival in Wellston, Mich. It was intended as a one-off special event, but the trio quickly recognized the potential it had together. “We didn’t have much time to prepare — maybe an hour before the set,” recalls Erlewine, the only Warbler who still resides in Michigan. “As soon as we got on stage and started singing, we were all looking around wide-eyed, like, ‘Whoa, this is something else!’ It was a real blessing.”
The Warblers have continued to record ever since, and released an EP, With You, in 2017 whose recording was marred by technical difficulties that forced the group to change studios on the fly. But things went much smoother for the full-length The Dream That Holds This Child, due out May 15 and produced by Dan Knobler (Lake Street Dive, Caroline Spence) in Nashville.
“It’s been such a long time coming,” Davis acknowledges, but she and her bandmates feel the interim gave them time to polish their approach. “We’ve been thinking about the process for so long that when we came together in the fall (to record) it was just amazing,” she says. “It really helped us hone our dynamics, for sure. It was a very clear, very easy progression.”
Erlewine adds that, “We’ve had a lot of time exploring what it felt like and why it’s so special. We realized there’s something about our three voices together, so for this record Dan just had us sing in the same room, close to each other. We didn’t have instruments at all. There was a sacred place we got to when we lifted our voices together. It’s something unique we can’t pinpoint, exactly, but it’s our guiding light and what’s important about what we do.”
The 10-song set is also a testament to the trio’s range, with the bluesy tenor of “Summertime” sitting alongside folk, gospel and Appalachian strains in the other songs. “It’s pretty eclectic,” Erlewine says. “It’s hard when you have these strong individuals with their own things coming together and trying to figure out what it is. It’s interesting to balance that out and find a place that that is us instead of just three of us thrown together.”
Davis says the Warblers have “gotten through the mourning” of having to cancel a planned album release show in Nashville, as well as other events due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The trio is hoping that a headlining spot at September’s Wheatland Music Festival in Michigan may still happen, but in the meantime each member is busy working on more material, some of which will likely make its way into the Warblers repertoire and perhaps another album.
“We love each other and embrace each other so much,” Erlewine says. “To sing with each other is a gift. It’s always been understood it’s a side project and something we want to keep really special and cherish and take care of, which is a great understanding to have. It makes it easy and special when we are together.”