Blues Bytes

Surprise

July 2019

Ben Levin
Before Me
VizzTone

Ben Levin

Start listening to Before Me (VizzTone) from Cincinnati-based teenaged piano player Ben Levin and you may think you've wandered into a 1940s-era barrelhouse. The production work, Levin's tickling of the ivories, Bob Margolin's downhome guitar playing and the rest of the backing instruments all combine to present an old school blues vibe. Really, there's outstanding stuff throughout the dozen cuts on Before Me.

Margolin especially stars on the opening cut, Big Bill Broonzy's "I Feel So Good," as does harmonica ace Bob Corritore while Levin belts out the vocals over his exquisite piano playing. Following that is a Levin original, "Pappy," that has his fingers flying across the keyboard on this mid-tempo shuffle. Quite frankly, I haven't heard a young piano player this talented in a while. "This Morning" is a driving Albert King instrumental, with Corritore providing the harmonica interludes, at times making his harp sound like an entire horn section, while Margolin tears off the appropriate guitar solo.

Next up is a slower, late night blues, Big Jay McShann's classic "Confessin' The Blues," and like many cuts on this album it feels like this one was recorded 80 years ago instead of more like 80 days ago. It's such a tasteful, jazzy blues, with Levin's vocals well-suited to the material. (Reminder --- this kid is still under the legal drinking age in most states!). Corritore and Margolin again contribute laidback solos that are just right for this song. One might think that "Before Me" comes out of the Fats Domino or Professor Longhair songbook, but instead it's a Levin original showing that this young man has a strong dose of the Crescent City coursing through his veins. That New Orleans feel also shows in the album's first instrumental number, "Creole Kitchen."

Special guest drummer on "Lonesome Whistle Blues" is 93-year-old drummer Phililp Paul, who also played on the original version by Freddy King way back when. Paul also sits in on a Levin original, "Load Off My Back." We get another slow, late-night jazzy blues with "So Soon," a Levin original that could have been written decades before this young man was born. Chris Douglas shines with his very nice upright bass accompaniment.

"Load Off My Back" is a slower shuffle with the emphasis on the backbeat, again featuring Paul on drums, while "Lightnin'" is a James Cotton back alley Chicago blues that returns Margolin and Corritore to the stage to tear it up on their respective instruments. Levin does a great job on the Buddy Griffin classic "I Wanna Hug Ya, Kiss Ya, Squeeze Ya," singing his soul out while Corritore contributes a mighty fine harmonica solo.

Wrapping up this surprising disc is a slow, late-night blues instrumentalist, "Open Late," co-written by Levin, Margolin and Corritore, giving each of the three instrumentalists their chance in the spotlight.

Levin's release of Before Me continues a fantastic run of exciting new blues artists under 30 now making a lot of noise on the international blues scene. It's reassuring that new blues cats like Levin, Kingfish, Katarina Pejak, Heather Newman, Ally Venable, Vanessa Collier, Ina Forsman, David Julia and others are continuing to develop and are keeping the blues alive. Let's support these new artists on the scene by buying their music and attending their live shows!

--- Bill Mitchell

 

 

 

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