It needs to be said: Technology is a wondrous thing, but it can be easily humbled by a singer who grips audience hearts and ears without help from autotuners or ProTools. That is an old-school attitude that holds true. And when it comes to singing the hell out of a song, Davina Sowers is old school.
Whether biting into blues chestnuts such as “I’d Rather Go Blind” or vamping up gospel standards like “His Eye is on the Sparrow” astride her piano throne, the Davina and the Vagabonds frontwoman projects streets smarts and glamour — not unlike the late Amy Winehouse, to whom she has often been compared, both for her game, gutsy vocal timbre and love of fashion. Sowers is more grounded, though, balancing torchy laments with hopeful pop ditties like “Flow” (“Whatcha got in your heart’s worth fighting for”), and confidently leading her high-wired Vagabonds through fun sets heavy on the New Orleans-rooted jump blues, early 20th-century jazz and big band swing that have been their bread and butter.
It’s hard not to tap your foot or grab a dance partner during the slinky “I Try to Be Good,” or when Sowers and the Vagabonds call back and forth over a barrelhouse piano riff during “Lipstick and Chrome.” Somewhat unusually, there are no guitarists amongst the well-named Vagabonds — just banjo, standup bass, drums, and a sassy, brassy horn section.
The self-affirming, uplifting spirit and messages in their music are visually magnified by their appearance: the Vagabonds in sharp-looking suits straight out of a noir Bogie classic, and the thrift store-loving Sowers typically pounding the ivories with painted dragon-lady fingernails while cinched into vintage 1930s and ’40s dresses. Respect yourself, respect your audience, look good onstage: old school virtues that haven’t aged.
The consistent throughline in their oeuvre has been Stowers’ earthy relatability, whether she’s performing her own music or buffing up nuggets mined from the songbooks of Etta James and Fats Waller. Their 2014 album “Sunshine” found the Twin Cities native stretching herself as a songwriter with original pop tunes influenced by melodic contemporary artists like Ryan Adams and Father John Misty. A new Davina and the Vagabonds album is currently being edited, so hopefully Stowers and her road-warrior Vagabonds will try out some of the new material when she leads them back onto the Blue Guitar stage next Thursday.
Blue Guitar Club hosts Davina & the Vagabonds at Arroyo Seco Golf Course, 1055 Lohman Lane, South Pasadena, at 7:30-10:30 p.m. Thursday, March 1; $15. Davinaandthevagabonds.com, Blueguitar.club