Perhaps the easiest way to summarize Joe Levi’s unique dedication to craft is in how he self-identifies his career: not as a singer, but a “songsmith.” A singer vocalizes stories. A singer nimbly slides across notes and tones to communicate a message. A songsmith creates the message. A songsmith synthesizes many elements of music making, marrying together the details with the big picture, the soundscape with the voice, the song with the album–all while implementing a near spiritual focus. Joe Levi is a songsmith. His late July track “Shrine Song” proves it.
They’ll build a statue in her name, and paint a picture of her face. They’ll stand patiently in line, to lay their flowers at the crowded shrine.
Levi hails from Cumberworth, a pagan community in the rural English countryside. His website describes the childhood home as “fed on a diet of the weird and wonderful, mythology and magic.” The influence of this community bleeds into his work to wonderful effect. Levi’s sound lives somewhere between celestial psychedelia and witchy folk. His album “English Literature” certainly inhabits this drifting, blurry space. Released last summer, this collection serves as a hazy ode to the countryside. “Shrine Song” stands out among the many deliciously unsettling songs. This track is framed in dark, brooding acoustic guitar tones. The vocals settle over the soundscape with effortless control. But where Levi really shines is the writing.
And though the paintings they look nice, they don’t do justice to the sorrow in her eyes. And though the sentiments were right, they fixed her picture with a made up smile.
Lush, vivid imagery places the listener in-scene alongside the speaker. We see mourners crowded in line holding flowers. Glossy faux photos of a dead woman, smiling. Most haunting of all, the speaker insists that the dead woman is still “breathing underneath the battered bark of a chattering cherry tree.” I mean, come on. That will give chills to anyone with skin.
Go see the man who guards the grief, he’s seen much more than you would care to believe. But this one it cuts deep, so lay your wreath and keep the line moving please.
“English Literature” is almost obsessively concerned with the intersections between mortality and nostalgia, gratitude and terror, yesterday and tomorrow. To me, at least, “Shrine Song” epitomizes these themes. It seems to be a story about place, loss, and the ways in which we try to change the past to make sense of the present. This is reflected in the relationship between the drifting soundscape and the grounded lyrics – a craft strategy that very nearly mirrors the ties between the earthly and the heavenly, the body and the spirit, life and death.
Joe Levi is a songsmith. His voice – the cadence of which is reminiscent of The Smiths’ Steven Patrick Morrissey – is only part of the appeal. So check it out today. This is music for the lost, the found, and the yearning.