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The Levins: Trust
by George Graham
(Independent Release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 2/25/2015)
I suppose it has become fashionable to be cynical, certainly in the commercial media, but also in the arts, including music. Examples in rock and pop are rife, and among singer-songwriters, a jaundiced eye in lyrics, even in some love songs is not hard to find.
This week we have an album that reminds us of just how skeptical a lot of music has become, though a collection of pleasing songs almost all of which carry a gentle positive message, or are in praise of things like friendship. Of course, from the description, one might be tempted to think this was a saccharine pop album or something out of a self-help program. But in fact it’s very tasteful folk-influenced music. It’s by a husband-wife duo, the Levins, and their new second album is called Trust.
Ira Scott Levin and Julia Bordenaro Levin were both aspiring folkies when in 2000 they met at an open mic event and apparently hit it off enough well enough that in addition to their musical collaboration, they married not long after. Native Californians, they decided to move East to the New York area pursue their music together, and have been attracting a fair amount of attention on the folk festival circuit. In 2012, they released their debut album called My Friend Hafiz that featured songs based on the writings if a Sufi mystic. The new album is more broadly based but it also draws influences including Shakespeare and Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001. But the songs generally take a mood of gratitude to celebration to advice to hippie-style optimism for peace, though there are relatively few outright love-songs.. The Levins perform in a generally acoustic context. Mrs. Levin’s instrument is the piano, and it’s quite prominent. Mr. Levin plays the guitar and the two do quite a bit of vocal harmony singing. So in a way, it can sound like an old-fashioned hootenanny or community church-basement folk show with the piano being so much a part of the music.
The Levins are joined by a few guest musicians on the CD, most frequently Mark Dann, who served as producer and engineer, and played a number of string instruments from guitar to mandolin to acoustic bass. There is also some percussion played by Sean Dixon, and some tracks with drums, with some with string instruments including violin and cello. While there are the added players, the production remains understated, with that honest “friends in the living room” quality.
The CD opens with its title song, Trust. It uses a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt as the basis for the optimistic lyrics. Musically, it has a nice, breezy, sound with the texture of an old 1960s folk group. <<>>
Also taking a somewhat philosophical and optimistic point of view is I Am Here, with a more contemplative musical setting. <<>>
The Levins include one cover tune, Bruce Cockburn’s composition called Love Song which is a good fit for the optimistic lyrical tone of the album. <<>>
One of the nicest tunes on this positive album is an original song called Lines in the Land which turns the consideration of a cold New Years Eve night into thoughts on the connection to the Earth. <<>>
The song with lines from Shakespeare is called God’s Spies which identifies the excerpt from Shakespeare’s King Lear which they describe as the lighter side of the Bard’s play. <<>>
The Levins as old-fashioned dewy-eyed hippies singing for world peace comes out on the song called World of Peace. It works quite well and sounds honest. <<>>
Child in Space is another song of optimism which is described in their publicity as an “invocation to heal the world,” with influence by Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001 and the words of the Dalai Lama. <<>>
The closing track is another of those songs of celebration of life and love, Laugh with Me which features an added cello plus one of the few instances of obvious overdubbing, with the added harmonies, which contribute nicely to the song. <<>>
The Levins’ new second album Trust is, I suppose, the diametric opposite to the blues, and to some of the dark songs of moody singer-songwriters or alternative rock bands. The husband-wife duo perform a dozen songs, all but one original, of optimism, hope, celebration of life, the earth, friendship and hope for world peace, and do it in a very tasteful, honest way that is free from pretense or the kind of self-help jingle quality that music like this could easily fall into. It’s all honest, tasteful and appealing, and not at all slick or overly sweet. The playing is understated, and with the piano being so prominent, it breaks from the usual guitar-strumming dominated sound of the conventional folkies.
Sonically, we’ll give the CD close to an “A.” The sound is clean and like the rest of the album, honest and free from artifice. The dynamic range, while not at audiophile level, is better than most pop albums these days in maintaining the integrity of the ebb and flow of the music.
The Levins have created a very pleasing album that is just the thing for when you want to feel better about the world.
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