James Leva

'Til I Know

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James Leva has always had a knack for combining the old with the new, of adding a sheen to the rustic. To some, this might signify a compromise, trading traditional old-time musical values to gain a larger audience. To Leva on 'Til I Know, however, the shift seems natural, as though he's borrowed bits and pieces of older musical styles to express a contemporary sensibility. The lead track is a nice, slow-rolling ballad about love gone wrong, and it's surprising that Leva can make a pretty song with a title like "I Didn't See the Rope." "Fire Fire" is a fun, good-time number filled with fine harmony (Kristin Andreassen) and some great picking by mandolinist Danny Knicely and guitarist Larry Keel. The production and arrangements get a bit heavier on "Baby-O," a slow-moving bit of Cajun nonsense, complete with drums and pedal steels. Just three cuts into 'Til I Know, it's pretty obvious that Leva -- a fine singer and solid musician -- is quite eclectic. While someone else might describe these frequent stylistic shifts as "all over the map," 'Til I Know is much more interesting than the straightforward bluegrass and old-timey album that offers no more than fast and slow songs and ends with a gospel number. Leva and company have put together an engaging album that keeps traditional music alive by making it speak to contemporary listeners.

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