Within the landscape of Atlanta music, between the spotty national successes of indie rock, hip-hop and a blend of country and folk, exists a little-known singer-songwriter expression that is a relevant part of the zeitgeist of the city.
There were, of course, a few iconic Atlanta songwriters who gained prominence at Eddie’s Attic in the late 90s/early 2000s (John Mayer, Sean Mullins, etc.), but since there wasn’t a natural passing of the torch, the singer-songwriter genre seemed to have run its stylistic course. And yet this medium and voice has been earnestly building and growing at the grassroots level – you’ve just had to look for it a little harder.
Among those out in the field is Mondo Davis. After six years as a linguist in the Navy, Mondo settled in Atlanta a couple of years ago to sort out what was next. With hundreds of songs and partial compositions, and some extra time on his hands, he decided to enlist local musician Micah Dalton and producer/engineer Stephen Tracy to piece together an EP of his best work. What resulted was Dust Bowl Refugee, a title honoring Mondo’s Midwestern home of Missouri.
This group of five songs employs a folk-pop casing with refreshingly pragmatic and universal lyrical content. Mondo references Woody Guthrie’s ability to “take the regular and mundane, and make it larger than life.” It’s clear there is a thematic thread that has been intentionally woven throughout the project rather than just stumbled upon. Mondo ebbs and flows on finding meaning in place and faith, and the relationship between the two. Since Jackson Browne was his main musical diet during childhood, you can see where he developed a penchant for concise storytelling. “I want to tell stories that have little to nothing between me and the listener, literally and figuratively, with an approach that attempts to purify using earnestness,” he told us.
The songs you hear on Dust Bowl Refugee, just released this week, sing to the innocence, active or inactive, in all of us and do so by taking the story seriously. And while it’s clear he isn’t losing much sleep over the form, his city just may be waking up to its next round of singer-songwriter prominence.