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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Tom Levin - Tooth And Claw

Tom Levin - Tooth And Claw
2011, Musicbase

You don’t see Tom Levin coming.  The native of Sweden first discovered his singing talents as a high school exchange student living in Alaska, but it wasn’t until he turned 25 and was living in Australia that Levin began writing his own songs and performing live.  Returning to Sweden, Levin’s Tennis became overnight stars with their top-10 single “Shyway”.  In 2002 Levin formed his own record label and began releasing a string of highly successful solo albums, culminating in being name New Music Weekly’s 2007 AC Male Artist Of The Year.  In 2011, Levin returns with his fourth solo album, Tooth And Claw.

Tooth And Claw opens with "For Life Tonight", a ballad exploring the unexpected emotions aroused by a chance meeting.  Sweet and slightly desperate, "For Life Tonight" finds Levin sounding like a garage or basement U2.  The number is tuneful and simple in presentation, and Levin is solid on vocals.  "Sink Your Teeth In The Day" is an upbeat yet mellow folk/rock number with a carpe diem theme.  Positive and sweet, Levin's vocal line carries the song over a subtle arrangement.  "A Toast To My Drummer's Wife" is certain to leave listeners scratching their head a bit.  It's unclear whether this is a song of thanks to a friend or something that may have darker motivations involved.  It's certainly worthy of discussion around the water-cooler, and the melancholy but sweet arrangement works very well.

"Evermore" carries philosophical or spiritual undertones in a low-key ballad that feels incomplete.  This one just doesn't quite work, although it's clearly well-intended.  "Tooth And Claw" starts with a purposeful, acoustic guitar-driven arrangement, and explores the emotional aftermath of a serious illness and the fight to survive.  This is not a song of triumph but of beginning, as the clockwork pacing and rhythms suggest.  Levin invests incredibly powerful imagery and force in simple lyrics.  "We Know We Can Dance" is stripped-down and simple; a song about the magic of everyday life.  The arrangement closely shadows the song's meaning with a solid, compact melody that's catchier than you might first pick up on.  Levin builds this one through the bridge to a secondary chorus, and laces the song with tremendous imagery representing self-knowledge and the confidence that comes with living for yourself rather than someone else's expectations.

"Longing Is The Life You Found" is a dark and melancholy duet with Anna Stadling, lead vocalist of Swedish rockers Hovet.  Stadling's drawn from the hard earth but full of its own tragic beauty.  Levin is consistent with a minimalist arrangement, allowing the melody/vocal line to be the star.  "Burst Out In Flames" is a Chris Isaak-style ballad full of barely repressed passion, both in the lyrics and the music.  Levin doesn't have the iconic voice of Isaak, but the song is all the more powerful for his reserved approach.  The layered instrumentation here builds a dream-like atmosphere that's nothing less than gorgeous.

"Edelweiss" is a catchy little number that sounds like something Johnny Cash might have done, even though Levin himself sounds nothing like Cash.  This one will get stuck in your head and could easily find itself licensed for film, as the theme of love as salvation has universal appeal.  "Gabriel's Gone Missing" is a gorgeous dirge played over funeral organ that's more about atmosphere than progression.  Levin puts mortality in its rightful place with panache.  "Hibernation" is a stark and lonely number stripped down to acoustic guitar, voice and occasional vocal harmonies.  It's a thing of beauty, pure and simple.  "Nothing Will Go Wrong" uses softly wailing guitar to build a country feel over simple rhythmic arrangement built around a single acoustic guitar.  There's a determined melancholy here that's perfectly understated.  Levin closes with the simple, heartfelt exposition of "I'm Your Son".  The song is piano-driven and gorgeous in both composition and substance.

Tooth And Claw is incredibly and wonderfully sparse in compositional style, and full of tremendous imagery in both lyric and form.  Tom Levin is a masterful songwriter with an understated touch that is not an affectation but an extension of self.  Don’t be surprised if Levin exceeds his previous chart and sales successes on both sides of the Atlantic with Tooth And Claw.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Tom Levin at or Tooth And Claw is available digitally from and iTunes.

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