James Leva,
Memory Theatre
(Copper Creek, 2001)

James Leva, well known to old-time and bluegrass music fans as the "Leva" of Jones & Leva, in which he sings and plays with his wife Elizabeth Jones, offers up a solo CD that is rich and evocative. He is joined by Jones on several tracks, but is accompanied more by guitar wizard John Doyle, who also plays bazouki (just as brilliantly) on several tracks.

Starting off with "Sourwood Mountain" might seem predictable, but though you think you know this tune inside-out, Doyle's accompaniment gives it a whole new sound. His chord choices are a delight. Roscoe Holcomb's "Boat's Up the River" also gets a whole new sound while remaining rich with the ancient tones. Leva and Jones produce their perfect vocal blend on the haunting ballad, "I Need to Find," and "Half Past Four" resurrects Ed Haley's fiddle tune with more fine fiddle/guitar work from Leva and Doyle. There are some drums on "Boll Weevil/Raleigh and Spencer," thanks to hip-hop drummer Johnny Gilmore, so purists beware -- the rest of us can enjoy!

"Big Hoedown" adds a Celtic flavor to the fiddle/guitar mix, and the team of Jones and Leva do wonders with "Rain and Snow," successfully imagining "the character's mental landscape," as the liner notes say. "Farewell to the Stomping Ground" is a dirge-like, evocative instrumental, and "I Remember the Way" is a nice Leva-composed ballad, while "As It Is Fading" is a one-chord song whose lyrics I had trouble catching. The disc rounds out with the instrumental, "Jake's Got the Belly-Ache," a creepy murder ballad called "Past the End," and a final fiddle/guitar duet, "Queen of the Earth, Child of the Skies." This tune is a wonder, filled with double-stops from the fiddle and chorale-like guitar work.

All in all, this is a pretty spectacular outing for Leva and his fellow musicians, and his fiddle work combined with Doyle's breathtaking guitar makes for a master class in this genre. Highly recommended to lovers of old-time and acoustic music.

[ by Chet Williamson ]
Rambles: 9 February 2002

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