James Levy & The Blood Red Rose feat Allison Pierce – Pray To Be Free (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
JAMES Levy’s particular brand of song-writing has drawn comparisons to the classic likes of Serge Gainsbourg with Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin or Lee Hazlewood with Nancy Sinatra and Ann Marget.
It’s a sharp, playful mix of jaunty pop and bruised ballads that make good use of the singer’s striking baritone as well as Allison Pierce’s sultry tones (yes, she of The Pierces).
In fact, it’s largely down to Allison that Pray To Be Free exists, as having chosen to cover Levy’s Glorious as part of the Pierces’ last album, she also brought him to the attention of Coldplay’s Guy Berryman, who subsequently produced this LP.
The ensuing collection of songs are picked from a collection of 50 Levy-penned tracks, some of which were originally recorded by the band named LEVY, which released two albums in the mid-2000s and toured in the UK alongside The Maccabees.
Other tracks were chosen from a series of post-LEVY releases that more closely embodied the Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan spirit that James took with him when he left his native Vermont in the early Naughties for NYC.
No matter where they’ve sprung from, though, they have a new freshness that benefits from the presence of Allison Pierce, as well as a classic sensibility that lends them a nicely retro vibe.
The mix of boy-girl vocals also works a treat, while the odes to romance in all its forms – dark, twisted, hopeful and joyful – are expertly delivered to really bring out the best in Levy’s astute lyricism.
Early on, Sneak Into My Room offers a lovely blend of swirling, cinematic strings and folksy guitars set against Levy’s baritone and Allison’s sweet innocence. Lyrically, it’s deliciously flirtatious.
Give Me Happiness is a sumptuous duet that drops a fine Becks-like back-beat and a vaguely European vibe akin to Gainsbourg, while the folksy Crying To The River benefits from a tantalising central vocal from Allison that genuinely melts the heart.
The Dylan vibe is present amid the folk-drenched, harmonica-laden Hung To Dry, which raises the tempo to pleasing effect, while there’s a keen mix of suave horns and lush arrangements on Pray To Be Free, another fine duet.
Holy Water is a wonderfully melancholy solo from Levy, which finds his baritone softened against an acoustic guitar, before leading into the almost angelic Keep My Baby, which finds Allison providing a terrific backing harmony.
Indeed, the more you listen (and re-listen) to this album, the more you can appreciate why Allison and Berryman were so keen to ensure that these songs had another day in the sun. They boast a timeless quality and a lyrical richness that’s difficult to deny.
Pray To Be Free oozes quality and deserves to find a wide and appreciative following.
Download picks: Sneak Into My Room, Give Me Happiness, Crying To The River, Pray To Be Free, Holy Water, Positively East Broadway, Crying Myself To Sleep