Jones & Leva Links:
2000, Copper Creek Records
They are gifted musicians. Leva is a sensitive guitarist and fiddler and a fine vocalist. Instrumentally, Jones fills the role of the rhythm guitarist that is so elemental to this music. She sings with the clear voice of the mountains, yet with a sound so intimate that you can almost feel her hand on your shoulder as she sings. Hers is one of the most memorable voices in music todayit is always attached to the heart, ache and joy of the song she is singing.
Although they have chosen to arrange some traditional songs on this album, the majority of the work is original. If you listen to this album without consulting the liner notes, you will be hard pressed to differentiate between the traditional and original material. The common thread is the human condition that informs new and old songs alike. The songs that have been passed down from singer to singer over the years survive because they tell us something about ourselves, not in the confessional style of modern songwriting, but in the telling of powerful, tumultuous or archetypical stories. To simply play this kind of music with extreme proficiency would leave one impressed but uninvolved emotionally. What bridges the gap between these songs and the listener is the humanity, the heart and soul of the musicians who play it and write new music in this style.
This is where Jones and Leva shine. To me, their harmonies are the audible sound of love. They know their craft well and regularly hold vocal workshops. Technically it is an interesting harmony with Leva singing only slightly lower in pitch than Jones. (Casual attempts to sing along with one or the other vocal always leave me a little confused!) The most gratifying thing about their singing is not only the way that they blend their voices, but how together they reveal the emotions of the words.
"When We Have Love" is a lively tune adapted by Leva from 1 Corinthians 13. Hearing them sing these familiar but somewhat convoluted phrases, gives them a life in my heart that they never had before. Levas "River of Fire" describes in two short verses an unrequited love that spans an ocean and perhaps a lifetimea typical economy of words for a traditional song. "Scorned and Mocked" applies a similar brevity to Jesus Christs last day.
As usual with albums from this duo, it is the songwriting and singing of Carol Elizabeth that makes the most immediate impact on the listener. Her songs are like stories told on a darkened summer porchyou dont pay attention to their structure or the artistry of the teller as the stories fill up the hushed night air with ghosts and memories. If you do listen for her technique you will realize that each note is shaped and colored by the superbly crafted lyrics. She does not waste a word nor let one go by unexplored by subtle changes in pitch and timbre. The first verse of her "Verties Dream" is sung a cappella as a daughter tells her father of a dream she has had about his mother, a woman she has never met. "She said to me we must go home/ So that she can see me before she is gone." This song could have been written a hundred years ago and will be haunting a hundred years from now. This performance will be hard to improve upon with Jones singing, Levas gentle fiddling and harmonies and John Reischmans subtle mandolin picking.
There is a nice mix of music here, from the wistful "The Man In Me" ("I wish that I could be the man in me"), to the humorous "I Aint Big Enough" (Tomorrow in church Ill pray on high/ But tonight I want to black your eye"). With Verties Dream this duo has produced another exquisite set of tradition-informed music. Its timelessness cuts both ways, at home in the past and in the modern ear. You owe it to yourself to add "Jones and Leva" to your musical vocabulary.Mike Devlin