The Hippo


Apr 23, 2019








Joshua Davis. Courtesy photo.

Joshua Davis

When: Wednesday, Jan. 20, 8 p.m. 
Where: Tupelo Music Hall, 2 Young Road, Londonderry
Tickets: $20 at

More than a Voice
Joshua Davis performs at Tupelo

By Michael Witthaus

 Though Season 8 of The Voice ended with Joshua Davis in third place, he came away a winner. On the final night, he did something unprecedented in the show’s history when he performed his original song “Workingman’s Hymn.” 

Finalists customarily debut a new work, but an established writer always provides it. That didn’t sit well with Davis, a veteran singer-songwriter who’d released multiple albums before Team Adam Levine picked him. 
“Songwriting is what I do,” he said in a recent phone interview.
Davis began to gently lobby for his own material; with each rise in the rankings, he made a more forceful case. 
“Finally, I put my foot down and said, ‘I’m not going to do somebody else’s song and call it an original.’ I gave them five or six to pick from. I said, ‘That’s going to be it.’ There was a lot of … it was a really rough week. There are a lot of hands in the pot.”
He won the day, and in the end everyone seemed happy with the outcome. 
“I think it turned out really well,” Davis said. “Hopefully, [Voice producers] will continue to do that.” 
But he concedes his radical idea may not happen again. In a strange twist, the song unwittingly put Davis in the company of Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen as a musician inspiring a politician for the wrong reasons. Jeb Bush liked “Workingman’s Hymn” so much he began playing it at rallies. The candidate heard a hopeful chorus — “I know that we can turn it around” — but somehow missed the meaning of a pro-union song written in 2008 as a disapproving retort to his brother’s presidency. 
Davis is a purposeful songwriter. 
“I try my best to line up my work with my values,” he said. His most recent album, 2013’s A Miracle of Birds, is an unflinching musical exploration of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, drawn from firsthand experience. Commissioned by nonprofit organization On The Ground, it came after Davis ran a five-day, 129-mile ultra marathon race across the length of the West Bank. Davis was a cultural emissary, hosting musical events at each stop.
For Davis, a Jew, it was an eye-opening experience. His family legacy collided with jarring reality, like the sight of young Palestinians being tear-gassed by soldiers while trying to plant olive trees. The resulting 12-song record provides no easy answers. 
“I had conflicting views … it’s so divisive,” he said. “A lot of it was just trying to not tell people what to think, but to take a very personal standpoint.” 
Currently at work on a new album, Davis finds himself in a different place artistically. “I’ve been writing a lot of love songs. I’ve never written much of them before; my songs in the past have been historical, story songs — more socially conscious,” he said. “I feel this kind of urgency to just enjoy what we have [and] write songs that give hope to people; and I have a new son [his second child], and so I have been writing songs for my kids.” 
Davis’s activist bent isn’t entirely gone, though. 
“Even throughout the love songs there’s a spirit of struggle, and hope through struggle,” he said. “That is kind of a consistent current.” 
The Michigan native grew up steeped in folk and blues traditions, attending a lot of music festivals with his parents in the Detroit area. 
“The attitude there focused on passing the torch to the next generation,” Davis said. “I would go up with my guitar at 13 years old and talk to John Hartford, Greg Brown, John Hiatt, Spider John Koerner, people that were larger than life in my mind. That they would sit down with a kid and talk to them for a while … [which] really inspired me.”
Though an unlikely contestant, Davis is grateful for his reality television talent show experience. 
“Going into The Voice, I was really concerned about what the culture was going to be like,” he said. “Competition is not something that I’m comfortable with. I’m into collaboration. … I worried that it would be cutthroat, but it was like a big family.”
Moreover, the experience helped him grow as a singer. 
“I had never had any vocal or technique coaching [so] to go through that boot camp … the process of looking at my voice in addition to my guitar helped me in a huge way,” he said. “I sing a lot differently now [and] I see it more as another instrument that I can use. That has been really inspiring.” 

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