Treasa Levasseur, Broad
Canadian powerhouse singer-songwriter Treasa Levasseur continues broadening the soul music tradition into the 21st century with her latest release. The infectiously catchy groove of “Much Too Much” sets the dancing tone with staccato electric piano chords leading into a smoky melody. Her rich voice is just powerful enough to sell these tradition-rooted soul tunes, with their consistently tasteful musicality.
Horns and harmonica trade riffs in the old-school “A Little Pride.” A cover of Randy Newman’s “God’s Song” might seem a brave choice in light of the late Etta James’s classic version, but Levasseur has a refreshingly laid-back take. The easygoing, affecting ballad “Do Run” riffs on a classic doo-wop song, “What We’re Worth” spreads a danceable New Orleans-style beat, and in “Still Got Love” Levasseur seems to be channeling Bonnie Raitt (who has coincidentally returned to the roots of her own bluesy inspiration with her new CD).
“We Should Dance” (by Mike Evin) is a standout that could have been a hit in another era, as could the original, heartfelt waltz-ballad “Let Me Sleep On It,” a number about artistic perseverance with a beat that brings “Satisfied Mind” to mind. A few slighter numbers feel like throwaways, and there are tracks where I wish she’d cut loose vocally a little more, but overwhelming the occasional failings here is the honest old-school r&b flavor of the whole project. This winning artist succeeds, again, in adding to the tradition without getting stuck in the mud of imitation.
Charlie Parr, Keep Your Hands on the Plow
This lo-fi collection, mostly of traditional gospel tunes and recorded at Sacred Heart Church in Duluth by singer and string player Parr and a handful of collaborators, is loaded with grit and heart. Persistent rollers like “Jesus Met the Woman at the Well,” “Who Will Deliver Poor Me?”, and the title track alternate with contemplative, even spooky tracks like “Daniel in the Lion’s Den” and “God Moves on the Water,” a disaster ballad about the Titanic (which went down a hundred years ago this month).
The drone in the folk tune “East Virginia Blues” brings to mind a fever dream of The Velvet Underground, and “All the Good Times are Past and Gone” is one of the most depressing trad-folk tunes you’ll come across, but mostly these are pretty positive faith-inspired songs whose power derives from the seriousness and indeed the solemnity of Parr’s rich, cutting vocals and thoughtful, nimble playing, along with the tasteful contributions of collaborators including sensitive fiddle player Brandy Forsman and Parr’s wife Emily Parr, whose plaintively sparkling vocals light up a number of the tracks. The power derives as well from the simple fact that these are beautiful songs.
Brad Brooks, Harmony of Passing Light
It’s nice when an unpromising-looking CD in my always-too-big pile of unsolicited discs turns out to be a pleasant surprise. On the new release from San Francisco’s Brad Brooks, the package front cover doesn’t have the name of the artist or album, and the album name, once you find it, proves both obscure and pretentious-sounding. But much of this dense, complex pop album won me over.
The Motown-esque “Calling Everyone” starts things off by showing off Brooks’s rich, energetic tenor and flair for strong melodies and colorful arrangements. “Spinner and the Spun” is a modified modern blues with a decidedly unbluesy focus on the snarly flatted fifth. “Will It Be Enough” layers ’60s-style vocal harmonies on a simple pop-rock foundation dotted with George Harrison-esque guitar fills.
I like the wailing saw on the slow, atmospheric “Farewell to Folderol.” The catchy “Exemplary Girl,” probably my favorite track, suggests vintage David Bowie in both its metallic sound and its androgynous subject matter, and the high emotion of the melodic “Hope Is That I Got You” almost brings Freddie Mercury to mind.
“Bumbelina” with its countryish pedal steel has a warm charm to it, though I couldn’t make head or tail of the meaning. (“As years roll by your face value runs out of time” – huh?) Lyrics with more art to them would have added a dimension to the disc, but the art here is in the music, and there’s nothing pretentious or precious about these 11 well-constructed numbers. In some spots I didn’t care for the production, like the intrusively loud guitar fills in “Steal My Disarray” and the wooden beat detracting from the fine melodies of “Night Fades.” But all in all, the disc is a great-sounding if flawed effort.
Page 1 photo of Treasa Levasseur by Emma-Lee Photography