Monday 28 May 2018

Boy meets girl to make a vintage classic

James Levy and The Blood Red Rose Pray To Be Free (Heavenly)

They're probably thinking more Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra than Sonny and Cher. But this boy-girl duet thing is catching on.

She & Him, Zooey Deschanel and M Ward, are shifting big units with their albums. Now it's James Levy and Allison Pierce.

Part of the anti-folk furniture in New York, when Levy lost his girlfriend Regina Spektor to Julian Casablancas he got some passionate new songs in return.


"I tend to write about death and relationships and the death of relationships," he explains.

Bored with schlepping around with a band, things improved when those darlings of the in-crowd The Pierces recorded Levy's song Glorious.

Touring with Coldplay, Allison Pierce played more of Levy's stuff to Guy Berryman (the bassplayer produced the sisters' You & I album) and before you could say "Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers" studio sessions were arranged for an exciting new pop pairing, James and Allison.

Because their voices blend so well together, this 12-track collection would be a success, even if the songs were stinkers. But they're not. Levy has an ability to write in a style that could be described as vintage classic. Crying To The River would suit Gram Parsons and Emmy-Lou.


There's no wheel being reinvented here. Instead, freewheeling folksiness becomes epic, widescreen romance as peerless orchestral arrangements help squeeze every last tear from tales of heartbreak, loss and emotional turmoil.

An inspection of a love that is misery, the title track Pray To Be Free carries echoes of acts from Gene Pitney to The Last Shadow Puppets.

"I feel darkness and I feel rain," drones Levy on album opener Sneak Into My Room, a spooky yarn of an illicit relationship, that doesn't allow its musical dynamics to overpower the message.

Berryman has done a fine job in creating such an engaging backdrop for Levy's baritone and Pierce's sultry come-ons.

"What good does it do to pray," they chorus on Crying Myself To Sleep.

If Phil Spector hears this in chokey, he'll be over that wall in jig-time. HHHHI

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