What does Laurie Levine leave unspoken?
By Robert Laing
These nice, clever, pretty girls that matriarchs of respectable families would love to see their son the lawyer or doctor marry, what do they leave unspoken? Who knows, maybe something that would send prospective mothers-in-law off screaming.
I chatted to Laurie Levine at a performance she gave at back2basix the day before I did a radio interview with her, asking what she'd like to be asked on air.
"Ask me why my album is called Unspoken," she suggested. I'm no Sherlock Holmes, so I didn't twig the mysterious young lady was handing me a clue.
Laurie has both a debut book and album out. I haven't read her book Traditional Music of South Africa, so I'm guessing from its title that it isn't a detective novel. But I may be wrong because neither this dame nor her work are as straightforward as they seem.
The first red-herring to avoid in the mystery of Laurie Levine is jumping to the conclusion the author of a book on ethnic music is going to produce an African sounding album.
"Most of the songs were written long before the book came out. I didn't want to superimpose the material from the book onto the CD. That would have sounded artificial," Laurie said.
When singing her song Melancholy, she's a breathy, sexy, flirtatious cabaret singer. In Favourite Game, a mischievously giggling Latin-American diva. In Stranger, a duet with Jim Neversink, she's a haunting balladeer while in Speechless she sounds pure Nashville country with Jim playing lap-steel guitar. Laurie, who studied drama, manages to capture different emotions in each of Unspoken's 14 songs.
Many of her lyrics touch on Joburg issues without explicitly mentioning her home city. My favourite track is Big House, which Laurie sings with a throaty rock growl. This song deals with a pet hate of mine: the way Joburgers hide behind high-walls and spend their disposable income on pay-TV instead of drinking in music joints with me.
Up goes the gauge uses traffic jams as a metaphor for needing to get ones fill of ones lover which Joburgers are sure to catch. It has been playlisted on Highveld. But sadly, Laurie's eclectic sound is way too sophisticated to get past the gatekeepers of our radio stations. unspoken is a true "indie" album in that you can only buy it from www.oneworld.co.za, laurielevine.calabashmusic.com, and from her at her shows.
"Going the independent route with the album has been a challenging process. I don't have distribution or marketing support. But it's empowering in a way because I can hang on to my artistic integrity. I don't need to compromise and that's what my music is all about. And I think it's reflected on the album."
Unspoken was produced by Matthew Fink, Jim Neversink's guitarist and producer who also produced The Sick-Leaves' Tunnel Vision — three landmark CDs in current South African music.
In person, Laurie strikes one as more of a bookish author than an extroverted stage performer. She seems the kind of girl who would be easily shocked, and Matthew captured the giggle in the intro of Favourite Game by surprising her with an obscene question.
Her title track Unspoken was inspired by Ralph Ellison's great American black consciousness novel Invisible Man. It's a beautiful song, but why is the album called Unspoken?
"Running through the whole album is a subtext of things that are not said. Songwriting is about bringing to the surface things that are not spoken, things that people read between lines," she explained.
The lyrics to her song Stranger, which she has put on her website www.myspace.com/laurielevine, include the lines:
You've got that look in your eyes inviting me to confide So suddenly I want to tell you my whole story
Maybe that's what drives great musicians: a need to confide some secret to strangers. But what has Laurie left unspoken in her very articulate lyrics? I was too doff to figure it out by myself and needed her to explain it over lunch. It's a secret I'm not sharing, so you'll have to get her album. I doubt you'll figure it out either, but you'll love the music.
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