As a player, Duke Levine is unclassifiable. He calls his style “country-soul” guitar, and that’s fair. But what do you call a guy who opens his latest record with a twangy version of the theme from the ’50s sci-fi cult film The Blob followed by a scary version of the Ellington chestnut “Caravan,” an unlikely Beatles’ cover, and numerous originals with great melodies and even better playing?
Regardless of label, it works incredibly well. Duke’s slide playing and nods to George Harrison’s fascination with other musical cultures makes “Flying” a guitarist’s dream. The Blob theme is a perfect illustration of what Levine does so well – bending and manipulating notes until the track becomes an almost encyclopedic guitar experience. His runs at the end are truly amazing; you expect it to end but it keeps going through the fadeaway. “Caravan” has a quirky feel, like a Tom Waits record. It’s twangy, it’s sinewy and elastic, and Ellington probably never dreamed his song could sound like this.
Levine’s originals show his love and appreciation, not for chops, but for songs. “The Stars Look Down” is a beautiful statement of his chordal abilities. “It Was a Dark and Stormy Night” is a bluesy, atmospheric ballad with more fine harmonic-mixed-with-single-line workout. “Thin Air” shows off textbook volume swells in a beautiful song that ends too quickly. While Levine continues to back other folks both on record and on tour, it’s a pleasure to hear his own work again.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s May ’08 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.