Jones & Leva,
Vertie's Dream
(Copper Creek, 2000)

This is the third CD from the extraordinary vocal team of Carol Elizabeth Jones and James Leva. Their sound is old-time, but the new songs they write are modern treasures. They are simply not comparable to any other act performing today. They are unique, and they should be heard.

Leva's original "Something Shall Remain" sets the tone, with its haunting suggestions of spiritual survival. Jones sings her own "Vertie's Dream" simply and eloquently. It's a deeply moving ballad of a possibly supernatural occurrence. "Sent To Me" is a lovely country song, written by Jones with a sincere simplicity. "Dip Your Fingers in Some Water" is a traditional gospel song given such a spirited reading that I guarantee you'll be singing along by the last chorus.

"Scorned and Mocked" is a Leva gospel original whose a cappella chorus sounds ancient. Jones's "You're Not Mine" is a country wailer that's absolutely contagious. If you're a harmony singer, you'll find yourself adding a third part to the chorus. The next song, "When We Have Love," is a reply to the first song in that it is love that remains when all else is gone. Rooted in biblical themes, slightly Latin-tinged musically, the song is a sheer delight.

"River of Fire" is next, taking us into darker territory. Leva's very creepy love song is about a man obsessed with a woman now gone: "He is floating / He is sinking / He is burning in a river of fire." The next song is no less powerful. Jones's solo a cappella reading of "Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah" rings with the voice of the mountains, rich with the ancient tones.

The participants' instrumental skills get a showcase in "Washington's March/Jim and Arnold." Leva's skilled fiddling shines here. "The Man in Me," a Leva/Jones collaboration, is the only song that didn't do much for me. Blessed with interesting lyrics but an undistinguished melody, the song kept making me think of Nick Lowe's superior "The Beast in Me," the dark mirror-image of this song.

"I Ain't Big Enough" is the sole humorous song, and is funny enough to make you wish Jones and Leva would write more funny stuff, like, "Tomorrow in church I'll pray on high / But tonight I want to black your eye." The CD ends fittingly with "Minister's Farewell/Last of Callahan," a medley of a shaped note song and an old fiddle tune "said to be composed by a convict named Callahan just before his hanging." Cheery stuff.

Given fine instrumental support by John Reischman on mandolin and Dave Grant on bass, and Mike Seeger, David Winston, and Bobby Read on individual songs, Jones and Leva offer a strong program of new and old-time music. Hearing them is like returning to the past, or being in a slightly skewed present in which the old songs and ancient tones are the musical norm. This is haunting and powerful music, and you owe it to yourself to hear it.

[ by Chet Williamson ]

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