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Friday, January 31, 2014

Tom Levin - Them Feet

Tom Levin - Them Feet
2014, Distrosong

Swedish-born Tom Levin was educated in the United States and Australia.  His Alaskan exchange family heard him singing in the shower and encouraged him to join the school choir.  The rest, as they say, is history.  That encouragement set Levin’s feet upon an inevitable path to a career in music.  The 2007 NMW Awards winner for “Male Artist of the Year” (he beat out John Mayer, James Blunt and Daniel Powter) has had significant chart success in Sweden, and continues to draw regular crowds at shows in the United States.  Levin releases his latest album, Them Feet, on January 29, 2014.  It is the first of two new albums from Levin in 2014, and it’s going to be hard to beat. 

The first thing to understand about the evolution of Levin’s work is that moves forward by moving backwards.  Levin writes brilliant pop songs, disguised as deliciously stripped down mishmashes of country, Americana, gospel and pop ménage.  The title track, “Them Feet”, is a brilliant piece of songwriting, a look at true love with a long view.  Levin is utterly convincing in describing a love that builds even as time breaks down.  The song is cut from a minimalist cloth.  Flourishes are saved for occasional accents while Levin allows the songs to speak for themselves.  “I Raise My Flag” is a song of determination that is delivered with low key style that nearly belies its subject matter, unless of course you cue in to the quiet intensity of the chorus. 

“Pull Yourself Together” could be a country tune, a pop tune or a classic rock number, but Levin crafts it as a quiet diatribe that’s all the more intense for its quiet Americana delivery.  This has hit written all over it.  “As Long As it’s Good” is cut from similar cloth, with Levin allowing the inherent pop brilliance of the song shine in its own rough-hewn style.  These are songs you will be singing and/or humming for days after you hear them, and they are utterly accessible.  Levin sings in a perfectly imperfect voice and range that your average music fan can sing along with; his messages are universally understandable; and his approach is earthy and real. 

“Once I Almost Killed A Horse” is an off-beat story song that finds Levin reminiscing about the keystone moments in his life that led him to his current love.  The individual references may not mean anything to any one particular listener, but the tapestry of life experiences has a journeyman’s appeal that’s inescapable.  Levin delivers this all in a low key fashion that’s part conversational and part reverie.  “Company Man” sees Levin digging into an American gospel style, but the halting arrangement saps the momentum of the album.  Atmospheric reverb counters Levin’s bare voice on “June’s Memory Lane”, a quiet gem hiding out in the last third of the album.  This moving still life of a song is a thing of beauty, as Levin uses vocal brush strokes to bring to life a scene full of vibrant quietude.

On “Father To Son”, Levin imparts important bytes of wisdom in a brilliant piece of Americana/pop songwriting that details the transition of a father as his own son joins the clan of fatherhood.  The personal reflections and expressions of love here are palpable, with Levin showing a deep personal connection that pulls the listener in.  You’ll want to call your Dad after hearing this song.  “King Neptune” is a song of memorial with a fairy tale-like feel.  Levin shows respect for a man of integrity and honesty, much like himself.  The beat of the song is penetrating, delivered on guitar rather than through percussion, and drives home the quiet sincerity of Levin’s lyrics.

Them Feet is not built on any measure of perfection, unless you consider the vitally accurate rendering of streams of the human heart as perfection.  If you do, then Tom Levin has created as near to a perfect album as you could hope for.  There are bumps and bruises here, just as in life, but Levin navigates them all with the quiet certainty of one who has found the meaning of his life and is working to play it out to full effect.  Levin’s lyrical style might be dubbed “conversational reverie”, as he mixes memories and moments into his current observations with a poet’s touch.  The music is stripped down and accessible, but never fails to hide his pure pop genius.  Them Feet is brilliant in its imperfection.

Rating:                        4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

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