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November 2021

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Ben Levin
Still Here
Stony Plain Records

Ben LevinCincinnati-based piano player Ben Levin may only be in his early 20s, but the cat's got an old soul. Despite his youth, Levin has now released his third album, Still Here, on Stony Plain Records. Recorded in "smooth monophonic sound" in an old church for the proper reverberation, so the dozen recordings on this new album carry an old sound not unlike the historic King recordings made in Cincinnati decades ago. Noted guitarist Aron Levin accompanies his son on the album as well as co-writing three of the songs heard here. Chris Douglas (bass) and Oscar Bernal (drums) round out the session band.

First up is "Love And Friendship," an oldie originally co-written by Modern Records founder Jules Bihari. Levin opens with a tasteful piano solo with classical overtones, with his father later coming in with a nice guitar solo. Right away we hear how much Levin's voice has improved and taken on a mature sound that fits this retro music. Moving to a classic late-night slow blues sound with the original number "Still Here," Levin again showcases his outstanding vocal work, sounding like he's been transplanted from a smoky Cincinnati jazz club circa 1940. Aron's exquisite staccato picking of the guitar strings adds kind of a Django Reinhardt flavor to the tune.

Levin lays down a two-four shuffle beat on the mid-tempo blues, "That's the Meal," in which he ties together meals of his past with a nighttime encounter with his woman. The pace picks up considerably on the Jimmy Liggins original, "I Can't Stop It," the tempo being led by Levin's piano playing while Aron comes in later with a killer guitar solo. One of the best cuts here. Levin then gives a walking rhythm to the slow blues original "Bad Idea," a creative piece of songwriting when he sings about various bad ideas, such as "...Don't daydream about your best friend's wife, if he finds out he may take your life ..." and "... Don't take out a payday loan, before you know it they'll take everything you own ..."

Father Aron is again featured on the slow blues, "Please Let Me Get One Word In," this time with more of a Hawaiian-style slide guitar solo. We get more of a Chicago blues sound on the catchy "Kissing At Midnight," originally released on VeeJay Records by Billy Boy Arnold.

Aron again gets his time in the spotlight as he takes the lead on the instrumental number "Crown Jewel," a tasty mid-tempo blues shuffle. A song for the upcoming holidays, "Christmas Rain," follows, a slow late-night blues on which Levin sings the blues about his miserable December when his hot chocolate got cold, his torn-up stocking had a lump of coal, and other blues experiences because his woman wasn't there with him on that rainy Christmas day. More intricate and warming guitar licks from daddy-o Aron.

Drummer Bernal provides the intro to the mid-tempo novelty blues "Her Older Brother" with a rhythmic beat, while Levin sings about how the mother of his woman was okay with their relationship but not her older brother and also contributes a strong honky tonk piano solo. Levin picks up the tempo with the very fun Tampa Red song, "I Wonder What's The Matter." Again, his voice is well-suited for all of the material here but even more so for these old blues songs. It's that old soul that I mentioned earlier.

Closing this absolutely wonderful album is one more Levin original, the topical "Your Essential Worker," a slow blues on which he tells his woman that he's "clocking in for her." The steady walking beat that he puts down with his left hand really makes this one cook.

With the 2021 blues season soon coming to a close, I can easily state that Still Here is one of the top ten albums of the year. Let me change that to make it one of the top five blues recordings for 2021, and that may even be a tad conservative. Regardless, it's one that deserves a purchase from every blues fan around, especially if you love the sound of the blues piano.

--- Bill Mitchell

 

 

 

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