Roots-oriented singer/songwriter Adam Levy made a name for himself by fronting the Minnesota group Honeydogs for nearly 20 years before striking out on his own and focusing on a solo career. He still plays with the aforementioned group, but on Naubinway, Levy unveils a striking tribute to his son Daniel who passed away recently. The result is thirteen tracks charged with emotion; purging negativity through the positivity of music. At heart the album mixes folk, blues and country influences, yet genre feels rather unimportant in the grand scheme of things as the music speaks volumes without need of a tag.
Opener “Take It as It comes” finds Levy’s voice embracing powerful melodies, while nearly cracking under the weight of expression as his roaming acoustic guitar covers more ground than Lewis and Clark. “Potter’s Field” sounds like an old Civil War anthem with rustic string plucking maintain a high level energy with the subtle use of bass adding weight to the proceedings. Cutting through the blackness and smoke, Adam’s vocals sink low and reach high crafting a varied performance that sticks to the brain and makes for one of the album’s strongest tracks in the process. Though no actual percussion is used, the bass itself creates such a stomping, rhythmic beat that drumming isn’t a necessary ingredient to the equation.
“Atoms Never Die” changes the game significantly with droning guitar distortion giving way to subtle pedal FX, keyboards, a wayward rhythm section that cements itself with simple yet effective drumming and Levy’s acoustic guitar providing the tune’s primary melody. His plaintive lead vocals are filled in with smooth harmony back-ups and the entire tune updates Adam’s arcane conjurations with a relatively modern sound. Thankfully, none of the other elements are overdone, the music avoiding too much modernization which can be deadly to artists that really want to embellish an older, arcane aesthetic. Bob Dylan’s omnipotent influence can be heard on “This Friend,” a track that returns the songwriting to almost entirely acoustic, vocal-centered sort of balladry where Levy’s compositional strengths stand tall and proud in the first half. As the trajectory unfolds shuffling snare drum marches, bass guitar, electric riffing and xylophone enter the fray and send the song down an entirely different path.
Piano and soft shades of psychedelia enliven the solemn “When Your Well Runs Dry” with heartfelt passion, providing a showcase for Levy’s lush, lucid voice to paint a tale of departure. The rhythm section yields a driving push to the primarily piano played melodies (that replace the acoustic guitar as the primary bit of instrumentation). “How I Let You Down” digs into classic, blue collar folk where acoustic guitar and smooth vocalizations weave web after web of intricate sounds that hook the ears in for good. The super catchy “Pitch Black Path” treads much of the same ground but has an enticing, exotic chorus that really gets stuck in the head and the acoustic guitars are joined by percussive flourishes and electronic FX that warp the music just enough to again to bathe the songwriting in an alien, psychedelic feel.
Sparse piano, cello and ominous noisy drone summon the Spaghetti Western, soundtrack feel of Ennio Morricone’s best work during lengthy intro to “Eucatastrophe” before Levy unleashes a swagger, punchy acoustic guitar lick backed by his rhythm section’s economical, forward-motion grooves. Like a modern update an on an old coal mining anthem, “Marigold” feels like it was time-warped in from the early 1900s. Upbeat slide/steel guitars and country-fried melodies permeate the sultry “Clemens in Plainview,” “I Wish You Well” and “Handful of Sand,” a trio of tunes that see Adam and company calling upon the vintage Nashville sound to great benefit. The title track closes things out with just Levy’s voice and acoustic lighting the listener’s way back home.
Naubinway is a beautifully constructed, stellar release that will win its audience over thanks to superior songwriting, touching musicianship and a selection of songs that always bring a few unique influences into the blend. It’s obvious why Levy has had a long, illustrious career in the business because not only can the man play but he’s got a great voice and a knack for lyrics that really tell a story.
8 out of 10 stars.