Duke Levine, The Fade Out. At this point in guitarist Duke Levine’s life, it might be easier to list those he hasn’t played with than those he has. The Worcester, Massachusetts man has covered the waterfront with the kind of guitar that defies description but always hits the sweet spot. His new solo set is all instrumentals, which fits Levine just fine because he has no trouble at all making his guitar do the singing. In fact, it’s such a joyous sound that anything else would be hard to imagine. He performs songs by Charles Mingus, Arthur Alexander, Joni Mitchell, and Arthur Adams, which is quite a spread when you lay them out, and then writes everything else himself with such an easeful eye and ear that it all adds up to a musical celebration. So much of guitar is about tone and this man is a master of it. Every single note sounds exactly like what it should be, and then Levine adds enough spin to make them all irresistible. It’s not unlike magic: how does he do it? There are times when songs played like this seem like the only thing to listen to, and there are so few artists who can do it with such style and savvy it becomes a matter of tracking down their albums and snagging one. This is it. – Bill Bentley, The Morton Report
“…on Beneath the Blue, Levineʼs twangy tones—produced by vintage guitars played straight into an amp—wash over the listener like warm Gulf waves on a summer afternoon, rather than wowing them with overtly flashy licks. In addition to seven of his own gorgeous instrumentals, Levine brings intelligent and enchanting twists to classics such as Ellington/Tizolʼs “Caravan,” the Beatlesʼ “Flying,” and Bacharach/Davidʼs “The Blob.” A delight to listen to, the disc also serves as a master class in understatement and tonal mastery.”
– Barry Cleveland Guitar Player Magazine
“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.”
– John Heidt, Vintage Guitar Magazine
Best known as an MVP for hire by Peter Wolf, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and others, Duke Levine has an encyclopedic knowledge of blues, R&B, rock, pop, and jazz that informs his musicianship. Especially when heʼs on his own, leading a group that boasts a crack rhythm section and fellow Boston six-string guru Kevin Barry. His crew for the elegant and playful Beneath the Blues, his first solo album in a decade, includes Barry and drummer Jay Bellerose (Robert Plant and Allison Krauss). Levineʼs sense of humor also plays a major role: the disc opens with a surf-guitar treatment of the theme from the ʼ50s sci-fi classic The Blob and soon slides into a version of Duke Ellingtonʼs “Caravan” that straddles the legacies of Roy Buchanan and Juan Garcia Esquivel. Levine balances the sublime and the strange in this live-in-the-studio session until the finale, “Trio,” a warm-toned roots guitar ramble that teeters on the cusp of jazz. Itʼs an essay in tension and restraint.
— Ted Drozdowski, The Boston Phoenix
“If heavenly guitar tone is something that rings your bell, Lava guarantees to be a three-alarm clanger, as Levine dials up an incredible variety of luscious and appropriately applied sounds… To be blunt, Lava is without question the most enjoyable instrumental guitar album this reviewer has heard since Jeff Beck’s seminal Blow by Blow.”
— Andy Aledort, Guitar World
“Whacked-out jazz lines over rockabilly backing, dreamy Duane Eddy-inspired swells and delay-drenched low-register melodies – and even a nod to Merle Haggard – all show up on Duke Levine’s Lava. But those surf and turf styles represent only Column A on Levine’s varied musical menu. Lavaʼs tunes range from classic Nashville fare to his own rootsy or bluesy or ethereal originals.”
— Rusty Russell, Guitar Player
Duke Levine at Banjo Jim’s
…Currently, Shawn Pelton is hammering away with Duke Levine, Boston guitar great, at Banjo Jim’s in the East Village. This place would be a perfect representative of the term “hole in the wall,” but it’s way too cool to wear that label. With the equally stunning Tele and Rick lap steel player, Kevin Barry, and bassist Richard Gates, Duke performed a solid set of his distinct Bakersfield country and western jazz fusion. He plays with an enviable ease, making all his actions appear deceptively simple, from beautiful double-stop harmonic melodies to fiery hick-picking on his late-fifties sunburst Tele Custom. In addition to Duke Levine, we enjoyed Dennis Brennan, a Boston mainstay and R&B roots rocker who rattled the 50 person crowd (full capacity!) through a boot tapping set. Duke is currently promoting his first solo album in ten years, Beneath the Blue.
— Peter Stroud, Premier Guitar
Recorded live in the studio (pretty hard to believe, given the intricacies), here’s a buncha instro that’s subdued on the surface but whose collective soft-stroke packs as much whap as any number of jackboot-n-tattoo jobs you could think of. There’s a dreamy, bubble bath-like warmth to much of this that’s seldom heard (felt) anymore, and the rest is just plain snazzy. Some might lump it into (non-space age) bachelor-pad camp, but they’d be missing the point entirely. There are some doozie covers, too. Who’da thunk that the theme from The Blob would ever make you wanna tango someone outta their skivvies? The timeless standard “Caravan” starts as a waltz, veers into country and western, and somehow almost ends up as roller-rink cheeez. And I never thought I’d say such a thing, but there’s a take on The Beatles’ “Flying” that nearly makes the original sound like a toss-off (which it may well have been, but not anymore, Bub). Again, one could marvel at the subtleties, but the mastery is quietly overwhelming. It’s a drug all its own, and you only have to buy it once. For me, it’s one of those rare “I can die happy now” records. I’ve never heard anything that felt so much like baking on the beach, and fuckin’ Christmas, at once. No foolin’.
— Joe Coughlin, The Noise