Eclec­tic Levy tight­ens ties with city soul

> He calls other places home, but Mem­phis flair re­sides within

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Music - By Mark Jor­dan

Spe­cial to The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal

Adam Levy was born in Cal­i­for­nia and is a res­i­dent of New York City, but the gui­tarist/com­poser/ pro­ducer has found him­self drawn more and more to Mem­phis in re­cent years.

He has made one al­bum here, pro­duced an­other, reg­u­larly per­forms with the friends he’s met here such as vo­cal­ist Su­san Mar­shall, and on Satur­day re­turns to show­case his lat­est col­lab­o­ra­tion with a show at Other­lands.

Levy’s as­so­ci­a­tion with the city be­gan in 2003 when he came to Mem­phis to record his solo record, Get Your Glow On, a project that found the eclec­tic mu­si­cian adopt­ing a South­ern soul stance

with a host of the city’s most cel­e­brated play­ers, in­clud­ing vo­cal­ist Mar­shall, drum­mer Steve Potts, and horn men Jim Spake and Scott Thomp­son.

Levy re­turned to Mem­phis last year to pro­duce the lat­est record from ac­claimed Mem­phis key­boardist and singer Char­lie Wood as well as to shoot some seg­ments for the Web-based mu­sic se­ries “The Sun Stu­dio Ses­sions” with his new col­lab­o­ra­tor, song­writer Am­ber Rubarth. And Levy was here again this sum­mer to help Wood cel­e­brate the release of his CD with a show at the Le­vitt Shell.

“I feel like my Mem­phis con­nec­tions are pretty strong,” says Levy from a tour stop in Lon­don­derry, N.H. “Some peo­ple have even asked me if I live there. I don’t, but maybe I should get a 901 area code for my phone.”

If Levy doesn’t re­side here, it’s pos­si­ble that a lit­tle of Mem­phis re­sides within him, giv­ing his play­ing that touch of soul that has made him a much in-de­mand ses­sion player and side­man. Over a ca­reer that stretches back to the mid-’90s, Levy’s gui­tar lines have graced records by Tracy Chap­man (that’s him play­ing the tasty lead on her 1995 hit “Give Me One Rea­son”) and Amos Lee as well as on jazz out­ings by Joey Baron and Leni Stern.

He is prob­a­bly best known, how­ever, for play­ing gui­tar with No­rah Jones, a job he filled un­til the end of her last tour in 2007. (Just this week Jones an­nounced a tour with her new, Levy-less band, a run that in­cludes a May 8 per­for­mance at the Or­pheum.)

Levy says the split with Jones af­ter more than seven years was am­i­ca­ble and, given his own rest­less mu­si­cal tem­per­a­ment, in­evitable.

“She wanted to go in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion with her mu­sic and I wanted to spend more time mak­ing my own,” he says. “The only down­side of a job like that is you go on tour and all of a sud­den a year goes by, two years goes by and you haven’t had the time to fo­cus on your own thing.”

What, ex­actly, Levy’s own thing is can be hard to hard to peg down. A jazz player at heart, he ap­plies that mu­sic’s ad­ven­tur­ous spirit across a wide spec­trum of gen­res and moods. An al­bum like 2001’s But­ter­milk Chan­nel might be a straight ahead jazz date while a show with his long­time band the Mint Im­pe­ri­als will have a de­cid­edly blue­sier vibe. And in the funky in­stru­men­tal group he co-fronts with gui­tarist Ja­son Criger, Lakawanna, which re­leased its first al­bum this sum­mer, his play­ing may veer from John Scofield to Sonny Shar­rock to Duane All­man.

“The hard­est part of my job as a mu­si­cian is fo­cus,” says Levy. “I’m in­ter­ested in a lot of dif­fer­ent things, and I can sing and play in a lot of dif­fer­ent styles. It’s hard to build a ca­reer that way be­cause it’s hard for me to stay fo­cused and it’s hard for peo­ple to know what the heck I’m up to. So I try and have each in­di­vid­ual project be a clear mo­ment in time or have a spe­cific artis­tic voice. But some­times it doesn’t work out that way. Some­times you just mash things up and throw it on a plate.”

Levy’s lat­est project is an­other abrupt turn­about, an acous­tic, song­writ­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion with up -and-com­ing singer-song­writer Rubarth, who per­forms with him Satur­day. The pair met four years ago in Los An­ge­les at the cel­e­brated song­writer han­gout the Ho­tel Café and be­gan writ­ing to­gether. Their col­lab­o­ra­tion has pro­duced, among other works, “Wash­ing Day” which took first place in the In­ter­na­tional Song­writ­ing Com­pe­ti­tion and has been fea­tured on al­bums by both artists. Just this week Adam and Rubarth re­leased their first EP to­gether.

“The first time we sat down to­gether and wrote we came up with ‘Wash­ing Day.’ We didn’t re­ally know each other but it was so easy and re­laxed and it’s been that way ever since,” says Rubarth, a for­mer chain­saw sculp­tor who has been writ­ing only six years. “I re­mem­ber when I first saw Adam play there was such a glow about what he was do­ing. There was no ego, noth­ing to prove, just a love that was be­ing emit­ted from his wing­ing and his play­ing and his song­writ­ing.”

Cal­i­for­nia-born, N.Y.C. res­i­dent Adam Levy’s lat­est project is an acous­tic ef­fort with Am­ber Rubarth.

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