The cover of Alex Levine’s new album will remind Jayhawks fans of the seminal alt-country outfit’s third album, Hollywood Town Hall. Granted, Levine is posing in front of a church building rather than a town hall, but the structures are uncannily similar. Not only that, but the music on Falling Back Again will cement that particular comparison and reference point firmly in the minds of all right-thinking alt-rock enthusiasts. Simply put, Levine’s Falling Back Again is one of the more impressive alt-rock albums released in 2010.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Levine moved to Hawaii seven years ago and recorded Falling Back Again entirely in Haleiwa (together with lead guitarist Chris Shepherd). Certainly, the contents found on Falling Back Again are not the kind of music one might expect from a life lived on an idyllic beach in paradise. There’s no way one could imagine Jack Johnson coming up with such deep, rich, visceral and thoughtful rock music as that contained on this album. On a macro level Falling Back Again features many elements of classic 80s college alt-rock with a decidedly country bent. Guitar riffs are prominent, even harmony leads, and the rhythmic approach stretches beyond the standard 4/4 country-bluegrass beat. The eclecticism of the songwriting within the pop-rock sandbox that Levine plays within is highly sophisticated, choosing to mix and match different elements of genre and styles sourced from a fecund period of rock history.
The opening “Devil’s Eye” is a mid-tempo country rocker which features an eerily ghostly female backing vocal that puts the atmospherics of the song into sharp focus, an authentic rustic nugget that folks from Nashville (and way beyond) will appreciate. The roots-rock concept is developed further with the pleasing “New Day,” a stripped down folk-blues exercise expressed with acoustic guitars, basic percussion and delicious slide guitar. “Summer Girl” advances this country-rock agenda as far as Levine is willing to take it as a breezy, feel-good number that one might hear blasting out of car radios back in the good old days.
Almost as if Levine decides to draw a line in the sand, the rest of Falling Back Again moves away from the straightforward country rock and evolves into slightly expansive pop-rock territory. Sure, there’s still a smidgeon of twang in the rest of the album, but in general the sound gets a little heavier. You could almost say, that with each subsequent track, Levine begins to conduct rock 101 lessons for his listeners, sharing an expertise and knowledge that is both dazzling and arresting. Thus, the dynamic “Living Legends” is a pop-savvy ditty that might have been a 80s hit, armed as it is with an irresistibly toe-tapping backbeat. “Rinse and Repeat” is slow burning rock ‘n’ soul, with tinges of R&B operating clandestinely on its fringes, with the wah guitar sealing the deal somewhat. “Fall” is backed by an intricate rhythm pattern, Spanish guitar flourishes and even a Jose Feliciano channeling vocal performance from Levine. “Demons” is a dark glam rocker, powered by pseudo-Santana Latin blues guitar, with a tangential soaring chorus that takes one by surprise. “Dr. Goozo” comes across as a hybrid of Talking Heads’ offbeat “geek” arrangements and REM’s melodic sensibilities.
Diverse inspirations and serious rock pretensions fuel the incessant artistic drive that Alex Levine’s Falling Back Again personifies. Closing track, “Coming Down,” Southern Rock as re-imagined by the Rolling Stones, is a swampy delight and encapsulates everything that is good about Alex Levine’s burgeoning promise. Eschewing the myopic and limited musicality of the modern ‘alternative’, Levine deconstructs the arcane structures of ‘true’ rock music and builds the perfect beast.
Review by Kevin Mathews
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)