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Duke Levine
 Country Soul Guitar Daring CD 3001 (distributed by Rounder)

 Easy-going instrumental virtuosity

Duke is a well-established country guitarist, having played regularly in Mary Chapin Carpenter's band. But he has also recorded and toured with the Del Fuegos, blues great Otis Rush, and jazz drummer Bobby Moses. All these influences and more show up on this CD, his second on Daring.

Starting with a tune from Ry Cooder's  Bop Till You Drop, Duke subtly demonstrates a variety of guitar techniques with his very tight quartet on this all instrumental album. Duke will not hit you over the head with his playing, but if you listen carefully, you'll hear staccato phrases, chopped, bent and warbled notes, slides and glisses, and excellent use of amplifier vibrato. All done in a gracious, welcome in your living room style instead of the take-no-prisoners approach of the arena rockers.

Over half the tunes are fine originals from Duke and his band, ranging from the cowpokish "Roundup Serenade" to the wide open "Low Lonesome," which would not sound out of place in a Sergio Leone film, to the rockabilly "New Suit." And plenty of soul through it all, most noticeably on "Deep Blue" and soul singer Arthur Alexander's "Mr. John." Bob Dylan's "Nashville Skyline Rag" is taken at its word and turned into a full bluegrass romp with drums and a Hammond organ lurking in the background. The sound is good throughout, though not great, with the quartet sounding like a real band playing together, not something assembled in the studio.

It all ends too soon with "Waltz of the Titans." I admit I am a sucker for a slow country waltz. This one is drop dead gorgeous. Duke is backed every step of the way by Tom West on Hammond, in a beautiful blues-inflected tune. The structure is unusual, consisting of AABCA´. The first two A sections are identical and feature a lovely stop phrase where all the instruments drop out for just a heartbeat. The B section ends with the same stop phrase, the C section is a change-up, then the final A´ section repeats only the last half of A. It all works together so well you never really notice the unusual 18-bar length. This is a good example of the low-key but excellent musicianship throughout the album.

I wish I knew something similar to compare this music to, so you could get a better idea of what it's like. If you like Ry Cooder or Doc Watson or Booker T & the MGs' Steve Cropper, you'll probably like this album. If you dig Danny Gatton, you'll probably appreciate it, although you'll have to listen harder to hear Duke's virtuosity. If you enjoy just plain old good music, you'll probably love this album. If Duke called more attention to his guitar playing, or threw on some vocals (for air play, you know) he'd probably do better. As it is, let's keep him our little secret. Enjoy. --Glenn Brooks

production notes & song titles
Duke Levine, guitars and six string bass; Tom West, Hammond organ, Wurlitzer electric piano, piano; Paul Bryan, bass; Lorne Entress, drums, percussion.

Produced by Mason Daring, recorded and mixed by Chris Rival with some overdubs recorded by Mason Daring. 1994 release. (52:01)

I Think It's Going to Work out Fine | Roundup Serenade | Deep Blue (Sometimes Green) | Nashville Skyline Rag | Soul Miner | Low Lonesome | New Suit | Mr. John | Bud's Bounce | Waltz of the Titans

of related interest

Duke Levine
 Nobody's Home, 1992, Daring CD 3005 (51:23)
Almost as good as  Country Soul Guitar, which makes it pretty damn good.

Copyright © 1996 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.