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Music Review: Adam Levy Hangs It All Out on Washing Day

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If I were having an affair – which, believe me, honey, I’m not – Adam Levy’s new CD Washing Day would be the perfect soundtrack for it. There’s something so intimate about the low-key performances – just a guitar, bass, and drums – that you almost feel as if this guy’s sitting on your living room sofa with his acoustic guitar, sharing intimate secrets in a disarmingly husky voice.

I know I shouldn’t assume that a songwriter’s material is autobiographical, but if I were Mrs. Levy – if there ever was, or still is, a Mrs. Levy – I’d watch my back. “I Can Promise You That” is a bristly, funky track about a sneaking-around afternoon affair; “In the Morning” (which Levy’s sometime boss Norah Jones appropriated for her Feels Like Home album) is given a disturbingly sexy rendition, writhing with passion for a woman he can’t openly have. Then there’s the “I Put A Spell On You” – no, not the old Coleman Hawkins standard, but an even more menacing number, despite its dawdling bluesy rhythms, about a romantic pursuit that’s darn close to stalking. (“Spanish moss and angel wings / And a lock of your hair / I light a crimson candle / And say a midnight prayer.”) It sends shivers up my spine; I’m just not sure what kind of shivers they are.

The music biz being an unfair place, Adam Levy has been hacking around for a while; this is his fourth solo CD, yet I’ve never heard of the guy before. He’s probably best known as Norah Jones’ star guitarist, which is no mean credential. His roots lie in jazz, which I should have guessed from the edgy rhythms and tonal surprises on Washing Day, though it’s firmly in the rock tradition, with more than a touch of country and folk bleeding through as well.

Given the quality of the songwriting here, I’d bet Adam Levy would love to be better known as a solo singer/songwriter. He deserves to be, that’s for sure. Given his considerable guitar chops, he’s resisted the impulse to show off his virtuosity with extended solo breaks; they’re on there, but they’re totally organic to the songs. He lets the focus remain on his conversational storytelling, each song a slightly off-center Polaroid of life’s messy turmoils.

Yes, there’s a couple of folky tracks full of domestic comfort, like the title track, “Washing Day,” a hungover anthem to fresh starts, and the “Longest Day of the Year,” a laidback update on the Loving Spoonful’s “Darling Be Home Soon.” And I doubt there’s any autobiography in the crime-scene confession “I Shot Her Down,” but I dig that bashing drumbeat, the braying fuzz guitar, and the edge of grit Levy brings into his voice – it proves Levy could rock out if he wanted to.

Still, Levy seems more interested in perching on a woman’s doorstep and letting her know what he could do to her if she’d let him – on songs like “Unspoken” (“we both know what could follow one touch, / The one sin, etched in stone / Could make you a stranger in your own home” – oops, there’s that infidelity again) or the jazzy seduction of “Breathe With Me” – now, that’s the one that has me rethinking the whole adultery issue (honey, I did NOT write that, the editor must have added it).

Affairs end, of course, which may be why Levy winds things up with the rueful “The Party Is Over.” But it’s followed by the oddly chipper “Never Been Alone Like This,” a pop number I could easily imagine Fountains of Wayne covering, which has him leafing idly through his little black book again. A guys gotta do what a guy’s gotta do, and I’m half hoping he’ll call… but really, honey, I am NOT having an affair – I don’t even know this Adam Levy guy. Honestly.

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About Holly Hughes