Levi Lowrey is “Trying Not To Die.” It’s a song from his third CD, Levi Lowrey (Southern Ground). In today’s telegenic version of what substitutes for country music, those pickers, singers and writers who would stand out in any era have a harder time getting noticed through all the crap. Lowrey doesn’t play the game. He probably couldn’t even if he tried. Just look at him. Is this a face fit for television? I’ll tell you this, though, his heart is a mile wide. And he bares his soul naked like ol’ Waylon used to do on originals that reek of experience and smarts. How else could he fathom his faith with his admittedly self-destructive tendencies other than by writing a song like “I’ve Held The Devil’s Hand.” He ain’t dancin’ with Mr. D. Dude probably can’t even dance. But this guy, whose last album was called I Confess I Was A Fool (2011), is more than just a breath of fresh air in today’s sickly, bloated, fetid country music scene. He’s a damn deliverer of the goods, the kind of goods one would have to pry under every rock, or look behind every tree to find. In other words, he’s the real deal.
Known mostly as an award-winning songwriter for the Zac Brown Band, he’s a husband and father to two kids whom he helps home-school in Georgia. Abandoned by his birth-father before he was born, he wrote “Urge For Leaving” when his adoptive parents got divorced. “It’s kind of stupid to be so confessional in my songwriting,” he says, “but it works. [That song] is a very scary song for me to put out there because I know that my biological father, my adoptive dad and my mom are all going to hear it. But, if I was afraid to talk about that part of my life, I wouldn’t have written a song about it.” (The only personal subject he has yet to write a song about is his wife’s cancer, which is now in remission.)
He plays guitar and fiddle. His great-great-grandfather, Gid Tanner [1885-1960], was the original fiddler for country music’s most pioneering group of the 1920s and 1930s, the Skillet Lickers.
Lowrey is getting some good publicity abroad because, apparently, Winston Marshall, of Mumford and Sons, is a huge fan: “It’s been in the car for three weeks on repeat and I’ve been blasting it loud around London,” he’s said.
Note to other country songwriters: try getting personal…real real personal. It works.
Natalie Cressman’s Turn The Sea (Cressman Music) is a delightful jazz record featuring her trombone and vocals. She purrs like Norah Jones crossed with Madeleine Peyroux and writes like Joni Mitchell. Her sterling eight-piece jazz band, taken mostly from her San Francisco peers, spotlights a swinging and bopping trumpet, flute, clarinet, sax, keyboards, guitar, bass and drums.
The music is Steely Dan-sophisticated, imbibing in enough twists and turns to satisfy those with short attention spans, stopping just short of avant-garde. This early 20s beauty is startlingly mature. She knows enough to couch her ideas—both lyrically and melodically—within indie rock sub-texts like a post-Lilith veteran while, at the same time, giving heed to her jazz forebears. The result is totally satisfying on a number of levels. It’s the type of CD where you hear new things, a certain turn-of-phrase, a nifty riff within a solo, an abrupt change of arrangement that sets a song off course into uncharted territories, enough to warrant another listening. And then another. It’s going on my 2014 Top 10.