Roy Davis has one of those voices that is highly recognizable and perfectly suited to the music he writes with The Coloradas, his Portland-based Americana duo. It’s a high, wistful tenor, always sounding slightly resigned to the situations the characters in his songs are in, whether it’s a fraught relationship, a run in with the law, or tough financial times.
It stands in counterpoint to the voice of his songwriting partner, Bernie Nye, who possess a plainspoken, slightly deeper tenor, that harmonizes beautifully with Davis. Those harmonies can found throughout the stripped down yet lyrically sophisticated new album from The Coloradas, “Big Empty,” out on Oct. 22 online and at thecoloradas.com.
It’s an approach that’s served the songwriting pair well — just acoustic guitars, a bit of banjo, the occasional addition of upright bass, and on a few songs the virtuosic mandolin playing of Portland bluegrass mainstay Joe Walsh. On “Big Empty,” their second album, their talents for playing, singing and telling stories through music have matured and deepened.
“On this record, we ended up recording mostly story songs. They range between true stories and first person narratives to fictional stories,” said Davis, who first became known to Maine music fans with his old band with Nye, Roy Davis and the Dregs, which disbanded in 2010. “But even when writing fiction, the characters are usually based on someone we’ve met or read about. We need some sort of connection to the song in order to sing it convincingly.”
“Big Empty” was recorded mostly in Philadelphia by Davis and Nye themselves, with additional recording at Acoustic Artisans in Portland. While it would be easy to peg The Coloradas as a bluegrass band, an initial listen to the album shows that their influences run a much fuller gamut of acoustic roots music — bluegrass, yes, but also some folk singer-songwriting like John Prine or Greg Brown, and especially classic acoustic blues from the early part of the 20th century.
“During the recording we had been listening to a lot of older blues music, like Lightnin’ Hopkins, Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt, Doc Watson,” said Davis, a native of Waldo County. “We tried to approach the arranging process in a similar way to those artists, with fewer solo sections and defined choruses and more story-based verses separated by a musical idea.”
As is true with many Maine bands and artists, however, the real inspiration comes from Maine itself.
“More than any of those [aforementioned] artists, we’ve really been more inspired by the musicians we’ve been lucky enough to play with during and since the release of our debut last year,” said Davis.
The Coloradas are one of a handful of Maine bands that have also found a following in Europe. Davis and Nye have done two tours of Germany to appreciative crowds. The overall attitude towards live performance and the arts in Europe seemed to Davis to be much more supportive than the attitude in the U.S., though venues like One Longfellow Square in Portland and Club Passim in Boston help keep the flame alive for stateside acoustic music.
“We found that music in Europe seemed to have the support of the government, club owners, and the general public, whereas occasionally here it can feel like a battle between good and evil,” said Davis. “But maybe that’s an easy assessment to make when we only spent a few weeks there, and mostly just drank tiny coffees and ate delicious food. Also, I’m dating an Austrian gal, so I might be biased.”
The Coloradas will play Oct. 19 at the Unity College Center for the Performing Arts, a record release party with the band Girls, Guns and Glory at One Longfellow Square in Portland on Oct. 25, and at Nocturnem Drafthaus in Bangor on Nov. 16.