Elise Davis tells stories and brings relatable, realistic lyrics rather overly relying on imagery, metaphors and symbolism. That was the general take on her widely acclaimed 2016 "The Token." Some of that assessment holds true again here on "Cactus," but let's step back just a bit because she's slyly clever too. Davis chose the album title from the plant that symbolizes independence. It doesn't need much water. It can be beautiful, but don't get too close. It can be prickly too. Davis obviously sees herself in this way - an independent woman who stands tall amidst whatever challenges come her way.
Another example of this clever thinking is her opener, "Hold Me Like A Gun." In other words, tread carefully in my powerful, empowering presence. These are songs that straddle alt.-country and stripped-down folk, allowing Davis to speak confidently about independence, liberation, resilience and self-sufficiency. She may have come across as vulnerable and obsessed with failed romances last time out. Here she seems to be saying, "I'm bigger than you thought I was."
Davis worked with producer Jordan Lehning (Rodney Crowell, Caitlin Rose, Andrew Combs) at his home studio for six months crafting these songs, which take inspiration mostly from Tom Petty's "Wildflowers" and Aimee Mann's "Mental Illness."
Musically, Davis adds pedal steel, guitars, keyboards as well as strings and vocal harmonies on some songs. She alternates between independence and loneliness on "Hold Me Like a Gun," "Lone Wolf" and the title track. As she's done before, she forthrightly addresses sexuality as heard on "Man" and "Don't Bring Me Flowers," delivering them in her sultry style. "Moody Marilyn" takes on depression. She has two different takes on marriage in "33" and "Married Young," the latter of which is a story song rather than autobiographical, but a former boyfriend might see himself in her reference to his Tom Waits' records.
Davis isn't afraid to recount her poor decisions and revel just a bit in her small victories. She's an honest,evolving songwriter that just keeps improving.