Themes of Love in Well-Rounded Rock
Recent acquaintances of James Levy might only know him as the former boyfriend of Regina Spektor before she was stolen by the oh-so-mischievous Julian Casablancas of The Strokes. Or, to use a more obscure reference, as the frontman of the band Levy; the product of which includes a few EPs and two full-length albums, both concerned with the throes of love. But as James Levy and the Blood Red Rose, he’s released what is undoubtedly his most successful record, Pray To Be Free. With some help from Allison Pierce (of The Pierces), Levy explores yet again the theme of love, but with more energy, focus, and reflection than his previous recordings.
Take, for instance, the vocal rounds in the title track. Pierce’s alto weaves around Levy’s baritone, at times creating harmony and at other times answering each other. “I know you know that I will see you again / this time not as lovers but just as friends,” they echo, resulting in the perfect sonic form for the lyrical message of peaceful, mutual separation.
But Levy can also stand just as strong on his own. In “Holy Water,” he struggles to cope with a lover’s betrayal (unsurprisingly, a theme commonly explored in previous Levy records). But instead of detailing feelings of shame, hatred, or hopelessness, Levy describes a desire “go dancing, just one more night baby / in one more hour I may not be around.” With nothing more than an acoustic guitar, Levy sings poignantly and gracefully, recalling Leonard Cohen’s Songs From A Room. In addition to folksy ballads, Pray To Be Free also features modern and classic country vibes (“Hung To Dry” and “Cryin’ To The River, respectively) as well as horn and string sections, resulting in a well-rounded rock album.
Perhaps the only weakness to the record is the finale, “Precious Age of 13,” a stroll down memory lane — specifically, Levy’s bar mitzvah. The melody is agreeable enough, but the Hebrew lyrics and traditional organ feel so out of place from the other tracks. When asked about it, Levy told the BBC it was a “Gainsbourg homage.” Well, be’hatzlacha to him.